Gate pier from entrance to Watnall Hall (Photo: A Nicholson, 2004).
Gate pier from entrance to Watnall Hall (Photo: A Nicholson, 2004).

This Rolleston of the Queen of Scots confidence repute, is by some writers said to have conceived the plan for the Queen of Scots deliverance, and was also said to have been betrayed to Elizabeth’s Government by his own son, and that he was thrown into the Tower and beheaded. Even Camden in his “Elizabeth” was carried away to write, that he was betrayed by his son and suffered imprisonment, though he does not go beyond that, and “The Old Halls, Manors, and Families of Derbyshire,” vol. II, 125, from which we quote, refer to the same subject. That he suffered imprisonment is true, but that he was the contriver of the plot is not correct; that he was betrayed by his son is doubtful, and that he was executed is now fairly exploded. The facts are as follows :—A younger branch of the Rollestons were located in Derbyshire around Ashover, where they lived early in the reign of Richard II. and for two centuries after. Dr. Cox in his Derbyshire Churches, vol. i, 24, gives a detailed account of the monumental and memorial inscriptions of the Rollestons in Ashover Church.

Of these it was John Rolleston who purchased Lea, and he was brother to Thomas, husband of Regna Stafford. Thomas can be said to be the founder of the Irish branch of his house, for James I. in 1610 granted to his descendants, Richard, John, and Arthur, certain lands in the County of Armagh, on condition that Richard and his brothers should not let any of the said lands to anyone who did not take the oath of supremacy before the Chancellor. Two of the sons of Richard lost their lives in the Irish rebellion, being murdered in 1641. The Derbyshire family are descendants of John the purchaser of Lea, and it is in connection with one member of this family that the supposed pathetic incident is connected, and so much mystified, and it was so much more difficult to clear the whole matter up, since there is no account thereof to be met with in the State Trials, nor in any other authentic documents and sources, where it might be looked for.

James Rolleston in the reign of Henry VII. married Ann Babington and had a grandson named Francis, who married Mary Vernon of Harleston. It was this Francis Rolleston who felt so affected with the captivity of Mary of Scotland, because he deemed it unjust.

His grandfather, James, had, by Ann his wife, nine daughters and four sons, of whom Thomas married Elizabeth the daughter and heiress of John Turville of New Hall. This Thomas Rolleston had five sons, named Francis, James, John, George, and Christopher, and four daughters, i.e., Ann, the wife of Thomas Dethick; Dorothy, the wife of Richard Colley; Ursula, the wife of Adam Beresford of Bentley; and Mabel, the wife of Richard Pershel of Horsley.

The two manors of the family at Lea, at Old Hall in Ashover, passed to the Perchalls of Horsley in Staffordshire, and the Rollestons are after ‘that met with at Matthefield.

The Queen of Scots had escaped from her kingdom and taken refuge in England in the early part of the summer of the year 1568, but was by the Queen of England’s orders detained at Carlisle and subsequently brought as a prisoner first to Bolton Castle, and then to Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire, where she was placed under the care of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Tutbury Castle was within some miles of Lea and of Mathefield, but in the following spring the captive Queen was brought much nearer to Lea, by being taken to Wingfield Manor House.

It was from this latter confinement of the Queen that Leonard d’Acres designed to liberate her and to take her back to the borders of Scotland, but meanwhile the unguarded and impulsive Duke of Norfolk had made his proposals of marriage to the Queen, and had influenced the Earl of Northumberland to dissuade D’Arcies from his purpose. The unhappy Norfolk had hoped to get Queen Elizabeth’s consent to the marriage, but instead thereof he was, by the Queen’s orders, arrested and committed to the Tower. Then came the unhappy rebellion in the north under the leadership of the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, who designed to liberate the Scotch Queen, and another conspiracy of Leonard d’Acres, all which unfortunate undertakings told heavily against the interests and safety of Mary of Scotland. She was in the beginning of the winter 1569 taken to Coventry, and from thence not long after back to Tutbury.

Early in 1572 the Duke of Norfolk was tried for high treason, and in the following summer beheaded; and among others who had been implicated or compromised in the designs of the time (when Norfolk had taken occasion to propose marriage to the Scotch Queen) were both Francis Rolleston and his son, who were arrested for conspiring to liberate the Queen of Scots from her captivity.

When the Duke of Northumberland was examined as to what intelligence he had with old Roleston, &c., he replied: That he knoweth not olde Rolleston, nor none of that name (which would indicate that Francis Rolleston was then a man advanced in years). He had a son named George, with whom (as the State Papers, Domestic, Elizth., Vol. 99, No. 5, show) he entered into the following agreement, viz. :— Articles of Agreement made by Sr. Xpofer Wraye. Knight, Lorde Chefe Justice of England; Sr. William Cordal Knight Mr. of the Rolles, Gilberte Gerrarde, Esquyer, Attorneye Gen’all to the Quene’s Matte and Thomas Bromleye, Esquyer, Solicitor to her Matie for the Appeasinge of certaine controversies Betwene ffrauncis Rollston Esquyer and George Rollston his sonne made the xvij daye of November, in the xvij yere of the Raigne of our Souaringe Ladye Elizabethe by The grace of gode, of Englande fraunce, and Ireland Quene deffender of the faithe, &c.

“In primis, yt was Agreed that suche conveyance as was allreadye made sealled and deliv’ed heretofore agreed uppon Betwene the saide ifrauncis Rollston and the saide George his sonne Devysed by there Counsell learned in the Lawe uppon Boathe pties be pffcted and executed accordinglye.

“Itm., yt was allso Agreed that the reu’ione [reversion] of the feesimple of all the lande conteyned in the saide conveyance yf the saide George Roliston dyed without yssue of his bodye shoulde bee assured to suche p’sones as bee heires to the same at the commen Lawe payinge a Thousande m’ke vnto the saide George the sonne or else to the saide ffrauncis Rollstonne the ffather yf hee woulde paye vnto his saide sonne the said some of one Thousand m’ke.

“Itm., yt was allso Agreed the thinge before men’coned beinge accomplished the saide ffrauncis Rollstonn shoulde enioye in the saide conveyance accordinge to the meaninge thereof and not before.”

[Endorsed] 17 of November a° Eliz. xvij. ‘The award of the L. chief Justice, &c. between Mr. Roulston the father and the son.

Finally, Francis Rolleston made his will on the 20th July, 1586, describing himself as Ffranncis Rolleston of the Ley in Hirste, in the County of Derby, Esquire, directing his body to be buried where yt shall please allmightye God, as becometh a Christian man, the order whereof I refer to my wife and my executors, willing yf yt do please allmightye God, to lye in our ladies’ quire in Ashower Church, yf I depte this life wth in 14 myles thereof, &c., &c. He died on the 3rd of August, 1587, and was buried in Ashower Church, and the Probate of his will was made at Lichfield on the 6th Dec., 1587.

Every inquirer after correct and authentic items of history must feel with us how much we are indebted for the foregoing to the disinterested and persevering efforts of Mr. Rollaston, who, notwithstanding great difficulties, has not rested until the long mistaken and mis-stated circumstances connected with Francis Rolleston had been cleared up by him, and published in Notes and Queries.

The Watnall Chaworth estate came to the Rolleston family, as before shewn, through the marriage of Margaret Bingham to Ralph Rolleston of the Staffordshire branch of the family.