Vernon Family Crest
Vernon Family Crest

Character Information
Vernon is a minor noble who chooses a white rose in the Tempe Garden scene. After, his loyalty to York, his lord, gets him involved in a quarrel with Basset. The King has forbidden quarreling with swords, but the rancor between the pair will not abate. They go to the King and ask for permission to fight. The king denies their request.

Historical information
The following information is quoted from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, written by Joseph A. Nigota.

Vernon family (per. 1411–1515), gentry, was long established in the north midlands when Sir Richard Vernon (1389/90–1451) became speaker of the Commons in 1426. Coming of age in 1411, Vernon inherited an impressive array of properties acquired by his forebears, partly through advantageous marriages. At their heart lay manors in the Peak District and Derwent valley in Derbyshire, centred on Haddon Hall, whose chapel and hall were substantially rebuilt by Richard. The family maintained a secondary residence at Harlaston in east Staffordshire, held the hereditary forestership of Macclesfield Forest in Cheshire, possessed estates in another five English counties, from Westmorland to Buckinghamshire, and also held five manors in south Wales. From his great-uncle, Sir Fulk Pembridge, Richard inherited the lordship of Tong Castle, Shropshire, and the manor of Aylestone, Leicestershire. In 1411 he helped Sir Fulk's widow, Isabel Lingen, secure the elevation of Tong parish church into a collegiate establishment, with an almshouse and school. Isabel was also Richard's mother-in-law, his wife, Benedicta, being her daughter by a previous marriage to Sir John Ludlow of Stokesay, Shropshire. Tong College subsequently became a family mausoleum for the Vernons.

As well as providing the manpower when necessary for political power, the Vernon estates yielded in the mid-fifteenth century an estimated annual income of £210. Falling rents were offset by the profits of Derbyshire lead mining and by the maintenance of large herds of sheep and cattle. Richard Vernon's wealth and power were also supplemented by offices, leases, and annuities arising from his links with magnate families. He obtained from John Mowbray, third duke of Norfolk, the stewardship of the latter's Derbyshire estates, close by several Vernon manors, and by 1440 he had become simultaneously a retainer of both the earl of Stafford (afterwards duke of Buckingham) and of William, Lord Ferrers of Chartley. But his most important links, as a result of his principal manors being held of the honour of Tutbury, were with the region's greatest territorial power, the crown's duchy of Lancaster. Knighted by December 1417, Vernon rose to an eminence surpassing that of his ancestors. In Staffordshire he was twice sheriff (1416–17 and 1427–8) and represented the county in parliament in 1419.

Not until the reign of Henry VI, however, did Richard Vernon's office holding in Derbyshire reflect his territorial status there. In 1423 he secured what became a lifelong seat on the county's peace commission, and represented Derbyshire in the parliaments of 1422, 1426 (when he was speaker), and 1433. In seven of the eleven parliaments between 1432 and 1451 a Vernon sat for Derbyshire, either Sir Richard or one of his three (of at least six) sons. Sheriff of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire (1424–6), Vernon also consolidated his family's territorial power through offices held of the duchy of Lancaster. The most important of these, the stewardship and constableship of the High Peak, he first obtained in 1424. In 1438 he converted this grant to one in survivorship to himself and his son Fulk (d. 1449), who was soon to become an esquire in the royal household. Supported by an extensive network of retainers, tenants, and ‘well-wishers’, he deserved the epithet bestowed upon one of his sixteenth-century descendants, the ‘king of the Peak’.

Sir Richard's magnate and court connections procured for the Vernons several important offices and grants in the 1430s and 1440s. He was a deputy justiciar of south Wales (1431–c.1438) under James, Lord Audley, and by 1445 was serving as knight steward in the court of the constable (Buckingham) and the marshal (Norfolk). He surely owed his position as treasurer of Calais (1445–51), as well as the keepership of his son Fulk of nearby Hammes Castle, to Buckingham, constable of Calais from 1442 to 1450. In June 1450 he acquired a life grant of the shrievalty of Pembroke, then in the king's hands, and a year later surrendered it in favour of his son John. The local authority of the Vernons did not go unchallenged, however, and in the 1440s started to come under pressure. In 1440 Sir Richard had to answer charges of intimidation and extortion, by himself and his deputies, in his High Peak stewardship. There were clashes over pasture rights with the Gresleys and legal disputes over the Pembridge inheritance. Lord Ferrers himself pursued a claim to Tong, which was settled by arbitration. Vernon's dubious claims to estates held by Isabel Lingen led to his engaging in lengthy legal and extra-legal manoeuvres, which in 1450 culminated in his forcibly seizing the valuable Staffordshire manor of Kibblestone.

Sir Richard died in August 1451, but many of his disputes were inherited by his eldest surviving son, Sir William [i] Vernon (c.1420–1467). Saddled with his father's debts, especially those arising from the latter's treasurership of Calais, William's position was gravely weakened by the loss of duchy offices and also by the rapid rise to local prominence of Walter Blount, who used his association with Queen Margaret to obtain the stewardship of the High Peak, which was part of her dower, and replaced the Vernons in parliament as the near permanent knight of the shire for Derbyshire. It was as a consequence of their rivalry with Blount that in May 1454 Sir William and three other Vernons joined in the coalition of forces responsible for one of the period's most memorable acts of gentry disorder, the assault on Blount's property and servants at Derby and Elvaston.

The violence, which was part of an escalating feud between Sir Nicholas Longford, an associate of the Vernons, and the Blounts and their relatives, the Shirleys, was accompanied by acts of defiance against the sheriff of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, Sir John Gresley, another adversary of the Vernons. This was also a direct challenge to the authority of the duke of York, recently installed as protector of the realm during Henry VI's insanity. York led a commission of oyer and terminer to investigate the affray, whereupon the duke of Buckingham, who in spite of his ostensible regional pre-eminence had hitherto generally failed to exercise effective leadership in the north midlands, now resumed his links with the Vernons. In August Sir William was retained for life by Buckingham and the latter's eldest son, Humphrey, Lord Stafford (d. 1458); perhaps as a result Vernon was returned to parliament in 1455 as a knight of the shire for Staffordshire, and later (May 1460) was appointed a JP in that county after serving two terms (1455–6 and 1457–8) on the Derbyshire bench. Not surprisingly, by the late 1450s Vernon had followed Buckingham into the ranks of York's enemies, while Blount committed himself to York and the Nevilles.

It is not clear whether the Vernons took part in any of the battles of 1459–61, but William was nominated to two anti-Yorkist commissions, along with Buckingham and John Talbot, second earl of Shrewsbury, both among the Lancastrians killed at Northampton in 1460. In the months following Edward IV's victory at Towton, Walter Blount (ennobled as Lord Mountjoy in 1465) headed commissions to arrest two of Sir William's brothers and bring them to Westminster. In December 1461, however, Vernon received a general pardon, and made his peace with the new regime. He strove to shore up his family's damaged fortunes, feeing fellow gentry in Warwickshire and Staffordshire, while resuming a militant defence of his rights in Derbyshire against real or imagined wrongs. Violence followed by arbitration enabled him to regain the stewardship of the Mowbray lands. But a series of confrontations with the followers of Henry, Lord Grey of Codnor (himself a retainer of William, Lord Hastings), culminated in November 1467, five months after William Vernon's death, in the murder of his brother Roger at the hands of Grey's men—a notorious crime which probably inspired the statute of 1468 against retaining.

William [i] Vernon had gone some way towards recovering his family's position, retaining some disputed estates and purchasing additional properties. In 1467 he secured a Derbyshire seat in parliament for his son William [ii]. And while his second wife, Margaret Pipe, like his mother, was of gentry stock, his son and heir, Sir Henry Vernon (c.1445–1515), made an aristocratic marriage to Anne, sister of John Talbot, third earl of Shrewsbury. Henry did not become a knight for another twenty years, but he showed an unmistakable appreciation of his wife's status when he instructed his executors to build a sumptuous tomb at Tong for his wife and himself, ‘the better and the more honorable for the bloode that my wyff is comyn of’ (TNA: PRO, PROB 11/18, fol. 66r). In the meantime the Vernons obtained Shrewsbury's support against Grey during the judicial inquiry occasioned by Roger's murder. They also formed links with the duke of Clarence, who was granted the honours of Tutbury and the High Peak in 1464, and who restored the stewardship of the latter to Henry Vernon.

But although Vernon followed Shrewsbury in supporting Clarence and the earl of Warwick in the rebellion that led to the readeption of Henry VI in 1470, and was a member of the Derbyshire and Staffordshire peace commissions of 1469–71, his support fell short of a willingness to take up arms. When Edward IV landed in Yorkshire to reclaim the crown in March 1471, Vernon was prepared to provide Clarence with information concerning the king's movements, but otherwise played a waiting game. Orders and appeals from both Clarence and Warwick—the latter in the oft-quoted plaintive postscript, ‘Henry I pray you fayle not now as ever I may do for you’ (Rutland MSS, 1, 4)—alike fell on deaf ears. Vernon's wariness paid off when Clarence made peace with the king, and the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury restored Edward to the throne. Presumably Vernon then answered Edward's peremptory summons, to bring his forces to meet the king at Coventry.

Having secured a general pardon in 1472, Henry Vernon was reinstated on the Derbyshire bench, remaining a member almost continuously for the rest of his life. This did not prevent his and his family's continuing to engage in bouts of violent self-help. As Clarence began his fall from grace, Vernon forged increasingly close ties both with the king (by 1474 he had become a member of the royal household as an esquire of the body) and with Lord Hastings, increasingly the dominant power in the north midlands on the king's behalf. He attended the parliament of 1478 as MP for Derbyshire, and there assented to Clarence's condemnation. In June 1483 he was summoned to the planned coronation of Edward V, there to receive knighthood. When Richard III's usurpation put paid to both ceremonies, Vernon nevertheless retained his household position, served on commissions, and even received a life annuity from the Tutbury revenues from the beleaguered monarch. In August 1485, however, he ignored Richard's demand for support against Henry Tudor, and was subsequently quick to establish links with the new dynasty. Sir Henry fought for Henry VII at Stoke in 1487, and against the Cornish rising of 1497.

Once more an esquire of the body, Henry Vernon was at last knighted in November 1489, when the king's first-born, Arthur, was created prince of Wales. In 1492 he became the prince's governor and controller of his household. A JP in six counties besides Derbyshire, he represented that county in the parliament of 1491–2, and doubtless on other occasions. He was frequently appointed to commissions in the midlands and west country. By 1500, now a knight of the body, Vernon had become a member of an influential midlands circle of courtiers that included George Talbot, fourth earl of Shrewsbury, William Blount, second Lord Mountjoy, and Sir Henry Willoughby of Wollaton. The Vernon–Talbot connection was especially close, for Sir Henry's brother Ralph had married Margaret, another daughter of John Talbot, the second earl. The Vernons made peace with families that had once been their foes, with the Gresleys and Shirleys as well as the Blounts. The marriage of Anne Vernon to Sir Ralph Shirley provided a link to Lady Margaret Beaufort—there survives a book of hours that Lady Margaret gave to Anne, with a signed inscription. Other marriages were less exalted but no less profitable. The double marriage of Sir Henry's sons Thomas and Humphrey to their cousins, the granddaughters of Sir Richard Ludlow of Stokesay, brought extensive Shropshire properties to the Vernons.

The Vernons benefited from the economic upswing of the later fifteenth century. It has been calculated that by 1500 the annual value of their estates was over £600. Once more, however, they faced a challenge to their position in their ‘home country’, above all from the Savages of Cheshire, members of which family held the stewardship of the High Peak for much of Henry VII's reign [see Savage family (per. c.1369–1528)]. When the Vernons and the Savages took opposite sides in a series of interlocking conflicts in the north midlands and north-west, the judicial powers of the stewardship were employed in 1494 to harass Vernon tenants. The Vernons themselves continued to employ physical and legal intimidation, the most spectacular example of which was the abduction in 1502 of the heiress Margaret Kebell, and her forced marriage to Roger Vernon, Sir Henry's heir apparent. Although Roger may have already joined his father in the royal household, this did not prevent Henry VII from employing his accustomed fiscal tyranny to control a regional élite. He forced the Vernons to sue for expensive pardons, backed by performance bonds. Roger's pardon in 1503 cost 400 marks, while Sir Henry only obtained his pardon in 1507 for the sum of £900. In his will of 1515 he complained about this fine, and called for the restitution of the £500 he had so far paid. He specifically referred to the testimony of Sir Edmund Dudley, the king's financial agent, who had confessed that Vernon ‘was to sore delt wthall’ (Harrison, 88).

Sir Henry nevertheless continued to receive signs of royal favour. Sheriff of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in 1503–4, he was chosen as a member of the escort that accompanied the king's daughter to her Scottish marriage in 1503, while in 1507 he finally received a life grant of the Peak stewardship and related offices. Still a knight of the body under the young Henry VIII, he seems to have retired to the midlands, his service on the peace commissions reduced to a permanent place on those of Derbyshire, Staffordshire, and Shropshire. Indeed, his attention was increasingly given to his interests in the latter county, where he rebuilt Tong Castle in brick, and planned the construction of the Vernon chapel in the college there. Roger Vernon was dead by 1509, and when Sir Henry died in 1515 his heir was his second son, Richard, who outlived his father by only two years. Richard's son George Vernon (d. 1565) was the last member of this powerful gentry family, now fittingly commemorated by the chapel at Tong and the splendours of Haddon Hall. The Vernon arms were argent fretty sable.

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