THERE is an atmosphere of health about the Fitzwilliams such as does not often surround these great families. Strong, sfficient, but thoughtful men, with an eye to their own interest and a hearty sympathy for the people around them, they have come down through history as a family addicted at once to governing and accumulation, forcing all manner of chaotic men and things to assume some semblance of order, redressing all visible grievances, standing always in the fore-front of the popular battle, and withal very dangerous to attack, as their county rivals know. Their character would justify the family legend that they are the children of a bastard of William the Norman, but it is not supported by history. In the misty domain of the pedigree-makers we hear of a Wiffiim Fitzwilliam, who gave, in 1117, land in
• .Elmley to the monks of Biland, who may have been the son of another Fitzwilliam, and of Eleanor Elmley of Elmley, and tlis grandson of this bastard of the Conqueror's, or of William Fitzgodric, cousin of Edward the Confessor, and Marshal of the army which conquered at Hastings and changed all English history. But all this is mythical. The first authentic figure who steps out of the mist is an Alderman, a man, it would seem, of pure Norman blood, but as son of a younger son of a Northamptonshire squire had taken to trade, prospered exceedingly, and under Henry VII. and VIII. became a great City magnate, Alderman, and Sheriff of London, and in 18th Henry VII. purchased the lordship and manor of Milton, in Northamptonshire, which he and his never let go again. That he was of gentle blood is clear, for his ancestry, though it cannot be carried to the Conqueror, is distinet to a Fitzwilliam of Elmley and Sprotaborough, to whom Edward L granted the right to turn the highway which ran through the middle of his park, a pretty sure proof of his grade and considera- tion. This ancestor must have been, too, a somewhat popular person, for he, or one of his family, set up a cross, which was standing in 1520, and on which these words were engraven in brass
" Whoso is hungry, and lists to eats, Let him come to Sprodburgh to his meats ; And for a night, and for a day, His horse shall have both corn and hay, And no man shall ask him whore he goeth away !"
The family, we may remark en passant, threw off in the reign of Richard II. a branch from which sprang William Fitzwilliam, Vice-Admiral of the Fleet, Treasurer of the King's Household, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Admiral of England, Wales, Ireland, &c., and Lord Privy Seal in the reign of Henry VIII., by whom he was created a Knight of the Garter in 1537 and Earl of Southampton. This statesman and soldier died in 1543, leaving only nieces as his heiresses.
The Alderman—he was Alderman of Bread Street Ward—rebuilt the gates of the Church of St. Andrew Undershaft at his own expense, and in 1506 was appointed on the express command of Henry VII. Sheriff of London. He was again elected in the 2nd of Henry VIII., but refused to serve, and was fined a thou- sand marks, say ten thousand pounds, and disfranchised, but four years after he was Sheriff of Essex, in which county he owned the manor of Gainspark Hall, and in nine years more Sheriff of Northamptonshire. He was a great personal favourite of King Henry, who knew a man when he saw him, and one day came to blows with the stout Alderman. Fitzwilliam had been in early life in the service of Cardinal Wolsey, and in his disgrace enter- taining him at Milton, he was asked by the King himself how " he dared" to receive "so great an enemy of the State." Such a question from a Tudor meant death, but the Alderman replied sturdily that he had acted from no contempt of his Majesty, but that the Cardinal had been his benefactor, and had helped to advance his fortunes, and he was bound to receive him. The King declared that he had few such servants, knighted Fitz- william, and made him one of his Privy Council, being a Tudor who understood other things than etiquette. Sir William had in his prosperity a kindly feeling for the poor, gave a charity of 121. 13s. 4d. a year to the poor of Marham, in whose church his an- cestors lie, payable through his guild—that of Merchant Taylors— and another, secured in the same way, to maintain for ever six poor women in an almshouse at Gainspark Hall, and in his will, dated May, 1534, gives 1001. for the marriage portion of poor maidens among his tenantry, and remitted all debts due from poor creditors who "could not content the same," under whose names he had written in his seventh book of debts "Amore Dei remitto." He bequeaths to the poor scholars within the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge 401., to be distributed by the advice of two Doctors of Divinity; and 301. amongst poor people; also 501. on the making the highway between Gainspark Hall and Chigwell in Essex; and the same sum to mending the highways between Thornborough and Sawtrey Chapel in Huntingdonshire, and to the fellowship of Merchant Taylors his best standing gilt cups with covers, with a perpetual remembrance of him, to be kept in their hall, and they to pray for his soul. For the safety of the same soul he makes plentiful provision in several other quarters. He was three times married—first, to the daughter of a City knight ; next, to Mildred, second daughter of Richard Sackville, of Buckhurst, in Sussex, ancestor to the Dorset family ; and lastly to Jane Ormond. To his eldest son by his first wife, William Fitzwilliam, he bequeathed 300 marks sterling, " with all his harness and coats of fence in his gallery chamber, his rich briganders, his cross of gold with a ruby, set with three diamonds, on condition that he keep- eth it as long as he liveth ; likewise his several pieces of plate, and all his household stuff, &c., at Gainspark Hall
and his manor-place of Milton." He settles on him besides (after her death) his wife's portion (the manors of Hennials, Maydells, Marshalls, and Armeways, with other lands and tene- ments in the county of Essex), his manors of Milton, Marhohne alias Marham, Etton-cum-Woodcroft, Butlers, Thoroldes, Myn- skipes, and Gainespark Hall, and all his other manors, &c., within the counties of Northampton, Essex, and Lincoln, to him and his heirs male, with remainders in case of default. He also makes very liberal provision in lands or money for his other four sons. He bequeaths to his wife his mansion-house in the parish of St. Thomas the Apostle during her life, whilst she remained his widow, on condition of paying 4/. per annum to his executors, to be by them bestowed yearly for the relieving of poor prisoners within the city of London that shall be acquitted and remain for their fees. He also bequeathed " to his singular good lord the Earl of Wiltshfre, father of Queen Anne Boleyn, his rich rose of diamond and rubies, beseeching him to be aiding to his executors in the performance of his will." And he directs that the residue of his plate, jewels, ready money, &c., and what he has not specifically bequeathed, be divided into two parts, the one-half among his children indifferently, and the other among his poor kins- folk and for the benefit of his soul, according to the discretion of his executors. Altogether he was a substantial citizen who meant gain, but meant also justice and mercy, and to go heavenwards as far as he knew how. One of his daughters by his first marriage became the wife of Sir Thomas Brudenell, of Deane, Northamptonshire (ancestor to the Earl of Cardigan); and the other, marrying Sir Anthony Coke, of Giddy or Gedney Hall, in Essex, had by him a daughter, Mildred, celebrated for her knowledge of Greek by Roger Ascham in his " Epistles," and who became the second wife of Elizabeth's William Cecil Lord Burleigh, and the mother of Robert Cecil, the Secretary of State to Elizabeth and James I. and first Earl of Salisbury.
The good Alderman's eldest son and successor at Milton was brought up in the household of John Lord Russell, first Earl of Bedford—a kinsman of his mother—and he procured him the Marshalship of the King's Bench under Edward VI. On the death of Edward he joined his relative Francis Earl of Bedford, Sir Maurice Berkeley, and Sir Henry Nevin in proclaiming Queen Mary, was by her employed in Ireland under the Earl of Sussex, then, in 1554, made Commissioner for the Crown, and in the following year Keeper of the Great Seal. This is the commence- ment of the Fitzwilliam connection with Ireland, where to this day they hold a vast estate, and where they, almost alone among Nor- man settlers, have once at least had the honour of national mourning at their departure. From this date he was, in various offices as Lord Justice, Lord Deputy, Treasurer at War, and what not, for thirty- nine years virtual or ostensible ruler of Ireland, retiring only when worn out with toil and honour to die, in 1599, in his native hall. He was a real Governor of Ireland in times when Government there did not mean the careful proportioning of official pay between two rival creeds.
Fuller, in his " Worthies of England," speaking of the repeated renewal of his Irish trust to Fitzwilliam, says, "A sufficient evidence of his honesty and ability, Queen Elizabeth never trusting twice where she was once deceived in a Minister of State. And she so preserved him in the power of his place that, sending over Walter Earl of Essex, in 1573, to be Governor of Ulster, the Earl was ordered to take his commission from the Lord Deputy." Sir John Davis, in his " Discourse of Ireland," bears testimony also that Fitzwilliam " was very serviceable in the reduction of Ireland ; first in raising a com- position in Munster, afterwards in settling the possessions of the lords and tenants in Monaghan, one of the last acts of State (tending to the reformation of the civil government) performed in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. His vigilance was very conspicuous in the memorable year of the Spanish invasion, anno 1588, when the noted Armada, on its return, dared not to land in Ireland, except against their wills, driven by tempest, when they found the shore worse than the sea to them." During one of Sir William's absences in England Elizabeth displayed her trust in him by constituting him governor of Fotheringay Castle (in Northamptonshire), which was the prison of Mary of Scot- land. "He behaved himself with so much civility," says one of his family, to his illustrious prisoner, "that the morning before she was beheaded she presented him with the picture of her son, which picture is still in the family." Fitzwilliam married an aunt of Sir Philip Sidney, a sister of Sir Henry Sidney (who was also one of the Governors of Ireland), and the latter writing to Burleigh by Sir William, on his return to England, in June, 1566, says, " I beseech you, Sir, be good to this bringer, my brother, Fitzwilliam. In my conscience he is a true man in all his service and charges to the Queen's Majesty. Doubtless I durst be bound, upon forfeit of all my lands, that he bath not willingly deceived the Queen in nothing, and for his checques 1 do not think that the Queen shall gain much above that which he bath ever confessed. In debt sure I think he is, and yet far from that sum which bath been reported. He hath deserved well, which is not to be forgotten, if it were but one day's service, in which he saved the honour of our nation in this land, and the lives of as many Englishmen as were on foot that day in the field. I pray you, Sir, second him, for in truth he is honest." In May, 1590, he suppressed a mutiny among the soldiers, and in July, 1591, Tyrone by his means was made a county and divided into eight baronies. In the same year he made the settlement of county Monaghan, already alluded to, on occasion of the forfeiture by treason of Hugh (Roe) M'Mahon, the Irish chief ; dividing the greatest part of it among the natives, except. the Church lands, which he gave to English servitors, reserving 4001. a year and upwards to the Crown. For this service the Queen returned him her thanks ; but the M'Mahons objected in such a practical form that " the good effects of his regulation were to a great degree frustrated." " Up to this time," says a bio- grapher, "he was a most disinterested governor, and it was reported that, thinking his great services merited some further recompense than the established entertainment, he sought it from the Queen ; but being answered by a Lord in great favour at. Court that the Government of Ireland was a preferment, and not a service, he ever after endeavoured to make his profit of the post." The result was the gradual aggregation of a large landed estate in that kingdom, particularly in counties Donegal, Westmeath, Tyrone, and Wicklow. As already stated, Sir William was prompt and active against the M'Mahons, Maguires, O'Neills, and O'Hanlons, and his other dangerous Irish neighbours,—but his government of Ireland will be chiefly re- membered by the construction of Trinity College, Dublin, the first stone of which building was laid on the 13th March, 1592, by the Mayor of Dublin, Sir William having two days before issued a. circular letter " to encourage forwarding and perfecting so good work ; and, to set an example, gave for his own contribution £200, and was so zealous in having it finished that it was made fit for- the reception of students on the 9th of January in the following year, his coat-armour being then placed over the gate to perpetuate the memory of so great a benefactor."
One of Sir William's daughters married into the Byron family, and was grandmother of the first Lord Byron. The Sir William Fitzwilliam who succeeded the Lord Deputy of Ireland did. nothing worthy of especial notice. His son and successor, William Fitzwilliam of Milton and Gainspark Hall, was in December, 1620, created Baron Fitzwilliam of Lifford, in the county of Donegal—an Irish peerage only—and died " at his house in the Strand," January 6, 1644, leaving the title and estates to his son William, second Lord Fitzwilliam. This nobleman had during his father's lifetime represented Peterborough in the Parliaments. of April and November, 1640, and in the latter (the Long Parlia- ment) attached himself to the cause of the Parliament, to which he adhered steadily during all the vicissitudes of the first Civil War.. Joining the party of the Presbyterians, and voting at the end. of the year, 1648, that the King's Newport proposals were a sufficient basis for an accommodation, he was one of those- excluded on that account by Colonel Pride. He took no active part against the Commonwealth, however, and died peacefully at his house in the Savoy in the beginning of 1658. His second daughter married Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul's. His successor, the third Lord Fitzwilliam, also a William, was a. Whig in politics, and at the accession of the House of Hanover was appointed Custos Rotulorum of the city and liberty of Peter- borough, and in 1716 raised to the titles of Viscount Milltown of. Milltown in the county of Westmeath, and Earl Fitzwilliam of Tyrone. He also sat for Peterborough in some Parliaments. He married the heiress of Edmund Cremor, of West Winch, in Norfolk, and (his two eldest sons dying before him) the head of the family at length ceased to be a William, and he was succeeded by his son John, second Earl Fitzwilliam (of Ireland) who was also member of Parliament and Custos Rotulorum for Peterborough. Earl John married the heiress of John Stringer, Esq., of Sutton -upon-Louud, Nottinghamshire. Their only son, William Fitzwilliam, third Earl. Fitzwilliam, of Ireland, who was left a minor, was created by George II. in 1742 a peer of Great Britain—as Lord Fitzwilliam, Baron of Milton in Northamptonshire ; and in September, 1746, was further raised to the dignity of Viscount Milton and Earl Fitzwilliam of Norborough in Northampton, and in 1744 he consolidated his for-. tunes by a marriage with Lady Ann Wentworth, eldest daughter of Thomas Marquis of Rockingham. This family possessed the wide Yorkshire estates of the Wentworths, Earls of Strafford, William Wentworth, second earl, son of " Thorough," having devised his possessions to his nephew, Thomas Watson-Wentworth, grandfather of Lady Anne. Her brother Charles, second Marquis, the Whig statesman, dying in 1782 without heirs, bequeathed his estates; with Wentworth Woodhouse, to his nephew William, the second earl (of Great Britain), who thus became master of the estates possessed by the man for whose execution his ancestor had voted. The Earl remained a Whig till the French Revolution, when, like most of the magnates, he quitted Fox, and in 1794 he, like other friends of the Duke of Portland—the Bentincks are Whigs by right of birth—took office with William Pitt. He was imme- diately afterwards appointed to his ancestral office, and some secret understanding arrived at as to his future policy. The Earl was at heart a strong friend of Catholic emancipation, but he seems to have agreed not to bring in any bill on the subject into the Irish Parliament, while Pitt, for his part, promised if Grattan intro- duced it that it should have full " consideration." This arrange- ment, however, was not made public, and the Earl and the Premier were alike in a false position. On the landing cf the new Lord- Lieutenant Catholics and Dissenters hurried to him with addresses full of anticipated sympathy on his part with their views. He did sympathize with them heartily, and was not the man to disguise his sympathy. The rumour of his friendly feelings soon spread, the agitation for emancipation gained fresh strength, petitions poured into the Irish Parliament, and Mr. Grattan was compelled—whatever he may have wished to do out of deference to Pitt—to introduce his bill at once. Then the ultra-Protestants of Ireland burst forth into violent expressions of indignation and alarm. Pitt wrote to Lord Fitzwilliam stating plainly, though courteously, that the Government could not approve of the bill. Lord Fitzwilliam, with the proud honour of a true Whig, at once summoned the Chancellor to his presence, and announced his intention to lay down his government and return to England within a very few days. On the 25th of March, 1795, he quitted Dublin, having only held the office since the preceding January. "The day of his departure was one of general gloom, the shops were shut, no business of any kind was transacted, and the greater part of the citizens put on mourning, while some of the most respectable among them drew his coach down to the wharf-side," and his departure and the arrival of his successor were followed by riots, particularly directed, as the mob said, " to extinguish " Mr. Beresford. A challenge was exchanged between the latter gentleman and Lord Fitzwilliam after his return to England. This was occasioned by some words applying to Mr. Beresford's "imputed malversation," which occurred in one of two long letters addressed to Lord Carlisle, and published by the Earl in his own vindication. The parties actually met, but the arm of the law arrested the duel, and then Lord Fitzwilliam apologized " in generous terms." The subject of the resignation was renewed in the English Parliament, the Duke of Norfolk and Fox taking up the case of Fitzwilliam ; but Portland and Windham, with the other Whig seceders, adhered firmly to Pitt. The truth seems to have been that the Earl, in his clearsightedness and sympathy with the people, forgot his official subordi- nation. He lived, however, to see all his dreams realized, and died at the commencement of the first reformed Parlia- ment, having in a long public life steadily postponed his own comfort, position, and reputation to the development of civil and religious liberty throughout the three kingdoms. His son, the late Earl, pursued the same course, strenuously sup- porting free trade, and so governing his estates and contesting elections as to elicit the warm affection of the people of the West Riding, who, new as the House is in the county, still prefer the Fitz- williams to any more sleepy race. The great election contest for the county is still talked of, in which the House of Fitzwilliam is said to have expended 100,0001., and their competitor all his West India estates. The last Earl at his death divided his vast inheritance into three unequal parts, but the Earldom is still supported by revenues which, till the character of their owners change, will not be grudged. A manlier or more competent race does not distinguish the English Peerage.