Ferrars, George

, a learned lawyer, a good historian, a celebrated poet, and a most accomplished courtier, in the reigns of Henry VIII. Edward VI. Mary, and Elizabeth, was descended from an ancient family in Hertfordshire, and born in a village near St. Alban’s, about 1512. He was bred at Oxford, and removed thence to Lincoln’s-inn, where he applied himself with so much success to the study of the law, that he was soon taken notice of in Westminster-hall as an advocate, at the same time that he was much admired at court for his wit and good-breeding. His first rise in his profession, and at court, was owing to Cromwell earl of Essex, who was himself a man of great parts, and took a pleasure in countenancing and advancing others who had talents. Upon the fall of this patron, he quitted the public exercise of his profession as a lawyer; not, however, before he had given evident testimonies of his knowledge and learning, as appears from, 1. “The double translation of Magna Charta | from French into Latin and English.” 2. “Other laws enacted in the time of Henry III. and Edw. I. translated into English.

Afterwards he became the king’s menial servant, whom he attended in war as well as in peace, and served both with his pen and his sword, and rose so much in favour with Henry, as to receive from that monarch a very considerable grant in his native county, out of the king’s private estate. This was in 1535, yet he managed so ill, that some years after, when member of parliament for Plymouth, which he was elected in 1542, he had the misfortune, during the session, to be taken in execution by a sheriff’s officer, and carried to the compter. This, however, being represented to the house of commons, occasioned such a disturbance there, as not only produced his discharge, but a settled rule with respect to privilege. Yet Mr. Hatsell, in his “Collection of cases of Privileges of Parliament,” seems to be of opinion that the measures which were adopted, and the doctrine which was then first laid down with respect to the extent of the privileges of the house of commons, were more owing to Ferrars’s being a servant of the king, than that he was a member of the house of commons. He continued afterwards in high favour with Henry all his reign, who fully approved what the house of commons had done; and Ferrars seems to have stood upon good terms with the protector Somerset, in that of king Edward; since he attended him as a commis^ sioner of the carriage of the army into Scotland, in 1548. Edward also had a singular kindness for him, as appeared afterwards at a very critical juncture; for when the unfortunate duke of Somerset lay under sentence of death, the people murmuring on the one hand, and the king uneasy and melancholy on the other, it was thought expedient to do something to quiet and amuse the people, and if possible to entertain and divert the sovereign. In order to this, at the entrance of Christmas holidays, George Ferrars, esq. was proclaimed Lord Of Misrule, that is, a prince of sports and pastimes. This office, which required no common talents, he discharged for twelve days together at Greenwich, with great magnificence and address, and entirely to the king’s satisfaction. In this character, attended by the politest part of the court, he made an excursion to London, where he was very honourably received by officers created for that purpose, splendidly entertained | by the lord mayor, and when he took leave, had a handsome present made him in token of respect.

But although he made so great a figure in the diversions of a court, he preserved at the same time his credit with all the learned world, and was no idle spectator of political affairs. This appears from the history of the reign of Mary, which though inserted in the chronicle, and published under the name of Richard Grafton, was actually written by Ferrars as Stow expressly tells us. Our author was an historian, a lawyer, and a politician, even in his poetry as appears from pieces of his, inserted in the celebrated work entitled * The Mirror for Magistrates,“&c. The first edition of this work was published in 1559, by William Baldwin, who prefixed an epistle before the second part of it, wherein he signifies, that it had been intended to reprint” The Fall of Princes,“by Boccace, as translated into English by Lidgate the monk; but that, upon communicating his design to seven of his friends, all of them sons of the Muses, they dissuaded him from that, and proposed to look over the English Chronicles, and to pick out and dress up in a poetic habit such stories as might tend to edification. To this collection Ferrars contributed the following pieces: 1.” The Fall of Robert Tresilian, Chief Justice of England, and other his fellows, for misconstruing the Laws, and expounding them to serve the Prince’s affections.‘ 7 2. “The Tragedy, or unlawful murder of Thomas of Woodstock, duke of Gloucester.’ 13.” Tragedy of king Richard II.“4.” The Story of dame Eleanor Cobham, dutchess of Gloucester,“much altered and augmented in the second edition of 1587, in which are added, to the four already mentioned, 5.” The Story of Humphrey Plantagenet, duke of Gloucester, protector of England.“6.” The Tragedy of Edmund duke of Somerset." A farther account will be given of this work when we come to the article Sackville.

As to our author’s religion, it is very probable, if not certain, that he was a fixed, perhaps a zealous, protestant. This may reasonably be collected from his coming into public life under the protection of the lord Cromwell, who was undoubtedly of the protestant religion; and from the high credit in which he stood with the protector Somerset and king Edward, which it is scarce possible he could have attained, if he had not been so. In his history also of the reign of Mary, though he writes with much caution and | moderation, and speaks highly of the personal virtues of that princess, yet he shews himself clearly of the reformed religion, especially in the large account he gives of the death of Cranmer, and of sir Thomas Wiat’s insurrection. He died in 1579, at Flamstead in Hertfordshire, and was buried in the parish church.

There flourished also at the same time with him Edward1