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Portrait of George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, 1580
Signature of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury from Doyle's 'Official Baronage'
George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury (1528?-1590)

GEORGE TALBOT, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury (1528?-1590), elder son of Francis Talbot, fifth earl, by his first wife, Mary (d. 1538), daughter of Thomas Dacre, second lord Dacre de Gillesland, was born about 1528. He was present at the coronation of Edward VI, took part in the invasion of Scotland under the Protector, Somerset, was sent by his father in October 1557 to the relief of the Earl of Northumberland pent up in Alnwick Castle, and would seem to have remained for some months in service upon the border. Camden states that he had a force of five hundred horsemen under his command. He succeeded to the earldom on 25 Sept. 1560, was elected K.G. on 22 April 1561, and was appointed lord-lieutenant of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Staffordshire, some four years later.

Upon the death of his first wife, Gertrude, eldest daughter of Thomas Manners, first earl of Rutland, he allowed himself, in 'an evil hour,' to be fascinated by the charms of the celebrated 'Bess of Hardwick', whom he married in the early part of 1568. In the latter part of the same year the earl repaired to the court, where, in November, the queen assured him that 'er it were longe he shuld well perseve she dyd so trust him as she dyd few." This assurance assumed a concrete form in December, on the 13th of which month Shrewsbury wrote to his wife, 'Now it is sarten the Scotes quene cumes to Tutburye to my charge.'

In the choice of Shrewsbury, Elizabeth evinced her usual good judgment. He was a nobleman of the very first rank, of good character, and 'half a catholic.' There was therefore an appearance of respect to Mary in the choice of such a man to be her keeper. He had several houses and castles in the interior of the kingdom, in any of which she might be kept with little danger. His immense property would minimise the demands upon the roval treasury — some £2,000 a year being all that was allowed the earl for maintenance; and finally he 'had a spirit neither to be overawed nor corrupted.' Sixteen years of service, during which he combined an absolute loyalty to Elizabeth with an avoidance of unnecessary sternness towards his captive, approved the choice.

Shrewsbury received his ward at Tutbury on 2 Feb. 1569, but in the following June he removed to Wingfield Manor, whence a rescue was attempted by Leonard Dacre. In September the household was back again at Tutbury, where an additional guard, or rather spy, temporarily joined the family in the person of the Earl of Huntingdon. In November took place the revolt of the Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, who purposed to march upon Tutbury, whereupon Mary was for the time being removed to Coventry, and did not return until the following January. In May 1570 Shrewsbury conducted her to Chatsworth, where he foiled another cabal for her release. Cecil and Mildmay visited Chatsworth in October, and the removal to Sheffield Castle (Shrewsbury's principal seat), which took place shortly afterwards, was then concerted. At Sheffield, apart from occasional visits to the baths at Buxton, to Chatsworth, or to the old hall at Hardwick, she remained under Shrewsbury's guardianship for the next fourteen years.

During the winter 1571-2 the earl was in London, the queen during his absence being left in charge of Sir Ralph Sadler. He had been created a privy councillor in 1571, and he was appointed high steward for the trial of the Duke of Norfolk, whose sentence to death he pronounced 'with weeping eyes' on 16 Jan. 1572; Shrewsbury succeeded the duke as earl marshal. By 1574 he was already anxious to be released from his post as keeper, but Elizabeth would not hear of his request. He was greatly perturbed by the reports which reached the queen from spies in his household and by the conflicting instructions which he received. The regulations which he drew up from time to time for the conduct of the Scottish queen's attendants (who varied in number from about thirty to fifty) were, however, generally approved.

In 1577 the Countess of Shrewsbury was very desirous that her husband should move permanently with his captive from Sheffield to Chatsworth, where she was engaged upon her usual building and planting operations. From about this date the altercation with his wife which embittered the remainder of the earl's life seems to have commenced. In 1579 his allowance from the treasury was reduced by about a quarter. A report had been rife among his enemies that he had amassed an enormous sum (Mauvissiere named two hundred thousand crowns) by his custodianship. In August 1584 he was vastly relieved upon being allowed to hand over his charge to Sir Ralph Sadler. On 6 Sept. he took leave of Mary. He did not see her again until October 1586, when he went to her trial at Fotheringay; and afterwards in February 1587, when he was appointed to preside at her execution. From Sheffield he went straight to the court, where he was seen for the first time after an absence of many years. On 15 Sept. a minute of the council expressed the queen's satisfaction with the manner in which he had borne his trust, and shortly afterwards he obtained his complete discharge. The Spanish ambassador, Bernardino de Mendoza, detailed to Philip the earl's expressions of gratitude to Elizabeth 'de l'avoir delivre de deux demons, savoir, sa femme et la reine d'Ecosse.'1

The complicated quarrel between the earl and his second wife had by now reached an acute stage. It seems to have been due, in part at least, to a refusal of the earl to listen to some plan for the better disposition of his property, in the interest, no doubt, of his wife's children by her former husband, Sir William Cavendish. Matters came to a head in 1583, when the countess caused to be repeated by her sons and by her agent, Henry Beresford, a scandal to the effect that an improper intimacy existed between Shrewsbury and the Queen of Scots. These calumnies so enraged Mary that in November 1584, after several menaces, she wrote Elizabeth a letter in which she boldly charged Lady Shrewsbury with having uttered a number of the coarsest and most outrageous scandals that were current about the English queen; but it is probable that this curious epistle, if it were ever despatched, was intercepted by Walsingham. Eventually Lady Shrewsbury thought fit to repudiate any knowledge of or connection with the scandal against the Scottish queen. In the meantime, towards the close of 1583, she definitely left her husband and settled at Chatsworth, where she continued to intrigue against her husband's influence at court.

Writing to Walsingham in July 1584, the earl complained that she had carried off a large amount of his property from Chatsworth, and had conveyed it to her son's house at Hardwick. He endeavoured at the same time, though without much success, to prevent his own children from obtaining access to her. The climax was not arrived at until 1586. On 8 May in that year the queen, by the advice of Leicester and the lord chancellor, drew up articles of a composition between the earl and his wife, but neither party was inclined to submit. Next month the earl wrote to Walsingham urging his suit for the banishment of his wife, 'now that she hath so openly manifested her devilish disposition . . .' in the defamation of his house and name. He also forwarded some notes of evidence to the effect that his countess had 'called him knave, fool, and beast to his face, and had mocked and mowed at him.'2 In a bitter letter to his wife, in strains far different from those of his early letters, he reminds her how, when, as 'St. Loo's widow,' she was a byword for rapacity, he had covered those 'imperfections (by my intermarriage with you), and brought you to all the honours you now have.' Shortly after this the queen seems to have ultimately succeeded in patching up a kind of agreement between the pair.

The earl returned from London to Sheffield in July 1585, and thenceforth spent most of his time at his quiet manor of Hansworth, which stood within the boundary of Sheffield Park. There the queen wrote to him at the close of 1589 in terms of greater affection than it was her wont to use. After calling him her 'very good old man,' she desired to hear of his health, especially at the time of the fall of the leaf, and hoped that he might escape his accustomed enemy, the gout. At the same time she urged him to permit his wife 'some time to have access to him, which she hath now of a long time wanted.'3  It is not probable that he complied with this suggestion, as it appears that he had for some time past been in a 'doating condition,' having fallen under the absolute sway of one of his servants, Eleanor Britton, whose rapacity, says Hunter, 'equalled anything we have ever read of.'4

Shrewsbury died at Sheffield Manor on Wednesday, 18 Nov. 1590, at seven in the morning. He was buried in Sheffield parish church on 10 Jan. 1591. Twenty thousand persons are said to have attended the funeral, at which three lost their lives. A sumptuous monument had been erected during the earl's lifetime, with a long Latin inscription by Foxe the martyrologist. The date and year of the earl's death are lacking, having never been supplied by the executors, 'whose neglect therein,' said Dugdale, 'he did prophetically foretel.'5

By his first wife Shrewsbury had issue: Francis, lord Talbot, who married, in 1562, Anne, daughter of William Herbert, first earl of Pembroke, but died in his father's lifetime; Gilbert Talbot, seventh earl; Henry; and Edward, who succeeded Gilbert as eighth earl; and three daughters; of these, Catherine (to whom Queen Elizabeth gave many tokens of friendship) married, in 1563, Henry, lord Herbert (afterwards second Earl of Pembroke); Mary married Sir George Savile of Barrowby, Lincolnshire; and Grace married Henry, son and heir of Sir William Cavendish of Chatsworth. By his second wife Shrewsbury had no issue.

1. cf. Teulet, Relations Politiquet, 1862, v. 344; Labanoff, i. 108.
      [AJ Transl. — "For having delivered him from two demons, that is to say, his wife and the Queen of Scots."]
2. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic 1581-90, pp. 451-55.
3. Ibid, p. 636.
4. Hunter's Hallamshire, ed. Gatty, 1869, p. 97.
5. Dugdale's Baronage, i. 334, where the inscription is given in full,
      together with the provisions of the will, dated 24 June 1590.


      Seccombe, Thomas. "George Talbot, sixth Earl of Shrewsbury."
      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol LV. Sidney Lee, Ed.
      New York: The Macmillan Co., 1898. 314-316.

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