The settlement of Gretraches is not recorded in the doomsday book of 1086. It is however, recorded in the Derbyshire archives in the year 1251 as Gretraches, a small settlement in the Peak district of Derbyshire. Therefore we can date the founding of the settlement at between 1086, at the time of the writing of the Doomsday book, and 1251, the time it was first mentioned in the Derbyshire archives.
The site of the Gretraches settlement was land that belonged to William the Conqueror. He confiscated the land from Siward, a Dane, and had given the land to Henry de Ferrers, who fought with the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings in 1066. The family that farmed the land, known as Gretraches, took their surname or family name from the name of the settlement.
From where did this family come? My 'Y' chromosome signature indicates that my family have Celtic origins. Many other people, who have also had their DNA analysed and have the same or a very similar 'Y' chromosome signature, are found to be Celtic. My particular DNA signature, with 23 at dys390, (see page 7) indicates that my Celtic ancestry is Germanic Celt and this particular signature is known as North Sea-Celt, a name that was first used by Alan Foster (see page 8) to identify a Celtic people who originated from Friesland (Northern Holland), Northwest Germany (Saxony) and Denmark. How and when did my family leave the continent of Europe to come to live in Gretraches, a small hamlet in the Centre of England ?
There are possibly four periods when this may have occurred.
The first, is 9,000 years ago when Celts walked north, across the land mass that was to become the English Channel, to inhabit Britain after the ending of the Ice Age.
The second is the period after the Roman occupation around 550-850AD, when the Germanic Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded from the continent of Europe forcing the original British Celts west. This was the period of the founding of Anglo-Saxon Britain.
The third is the Danish Viking invasions. In the ninth century Anglo-Saxon England had suffered isolated raids from Danish Vikings whose purpose was to plunder and then return to their homeland. In the autumn of 865 the whole fabric of English society was threatened by a great army led by Ivor the Boneless and Halfdan, both sons of Ragnar Lothbrok, the most famous Danish Viking of the ninth century. Successful in the north and east of England, a deal was agreed with Alfred, King of England, in 878, and the area, known as Danelaw, was born. Halfden ruled Northumbria and the region in which he and his army settled corresponds with the modern counties of Cumbria, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. His brother, Ivor the Boneless, ruled the south of the Danelaw area. It was not until the tenth century that there was any considerable Scandinavian immigration into the country north of the Tees, or west of the Pennines. It was the custom that conquered land was divided out between an army. Perhaps it was at this point that a member of my family took control of Gretraches as their reward for military service. The local nomenclature of the Northumbria Danelaw area was Scandinavian. The oldest document which illustrates its social organisation-a code of Aethelred II-shows that in language and legal custom it was Danish. As late as the thirteenth century it contained a large number of peasant landowners who were still giving Danish personal names to their children. There is no doubt in historians minds that after the Danish invasion the countryside had been partitioned among the rank and file of a Danish army. The Doomsday book shows that the names of as many as 70% of the holders of pre-conquest manors in the area had Danish names.
The fourth possibility is that my ancestor arrived in England during the conquest of England by William II, Duke of Normandy, in 1066. The Normans were themselves Danish invaders of the 9th century who formed the Duchy of Normandy (land of the Norsemen) and who had ruled that area of present day France for 150 years. In 911, Charles the Simple concluded a treaty at St-Clair-sur-Epte which ended 50 years of Viking assaults upon the Franks. He conceded some western territory to Rollo, who in turn swore homage to Charles to defend his Kingdom against other Vikings. Normandy, the Duchy of the Northmen, is thus created.
William, Duke of Normandy invaded England in 1066 with a force of about 8,000 mixed soldiers from Normandy, Brittany and some mercenaries from other parts of Viking Europe. After defeating Harold, those who had fought with William were given land as their reward. The Doomsday book of 1086, indicates that large numbers of the indigenous population of Anglo-Saxons and Danes continued to farm the land under the Norman yoke. Grants of land to the Normans were much larger than one single farmstead so it is doubtful that Gretraches was, on its own, a gift from William II. More likely it was part of a much larger tract of land given to a Norman, probably Henry de Ferrers, who allowed the existing farmers to continue to farm their land, for a price!
My view, at this time, is that my ancestor was part of the Danish invasions of 865-1015. These invaders 'planted' the Danelaw, which included the Gretraches estate. The Normans however were a much smaller force who ruled through the indigenous population, which in Derbyshire was mainly Danish. Records show, that as late as the thirteenth century, many of the peasant landowners were still giving their children Scandinavian personal names. The most likely explanation is that my ancestor was a minor figure in the Danish army that had invaded in 865 and consequently was given or took possession of the small and isolated Gretraches estate, which was under the control of the Danish Earl of Northumbria, Siward. They continued to farm the land after the Norman invasion of 1066, now under the control of Henry de Ferrers, Earl of Derbyshire. They swapped the Danish lordship of their land to Norman lordship and, in all probability, hardly noticed the difference!
The reasoning behind my view that I am of Danish Viking stock is based on DNA evidence and geographical knowledge of the area from which I know my family lived at the earliest times. Had my family come from Wales I may have been descended from the Ancient Britons, from the south of England, an Anglo-Saxon, but my family hailed from the Peak district of Derbyshire. Danelaw country!
One of the earliest known reference to a member of the family is to be found in a muster roll (a list of soldiers), MSS 24707, taken at Lymington and Beaulieu (ports close to Southampton).
Known as the Agincourt Roll, it lists the following soldiers who sailed with Henry V to Normandy on Sunday 11th August 1415- Lord Grey of Codnor (a member of the Ferrers family), John Grey, Edward Foljambe, John Cokayn, Robert Strelley, Alured Longford, Robert Wennesley, Richard Foljambe, William Gloshoppe, John Martyn, Richard Taillour, William Martyn, Thomas Staunton, William Dekyn-these were Lancers. The Archers were, amongst others; Richard Coup, John Dekyn, Ralph Bradshawe, Laurence Repyndon .
Peter Leche (of Chatsworth), Ralph Leche, George de la Pole, Roger Barlee-these were Lancers.
The Archers were, amongst others; John de Grendon, Robert de Lee, Roger Halgethorpe,William Halgethorpe, Adam Wylughby, Roger Thornhill, Richard Coke, Wilfred de Lee, John de Marpole, Roger Clough, Richard Abney, Hugh Bagshawe, John Staveley, John Halley, Thomas Ward, Thomas Wybbersley, Thurstan Halley, John Hide, Richard Botham, John Calton, Thomas Mellar, Richard Tailoure, Roger Tailoure, Robert Wright, Oliver Bradshawe, Thurstan Godbehere, Dionisius Rylee, John Gretrakes, James Redyman, John Harper, John Halley, Fulke de Sutton, John Daukyn, Edmund Tailour, John de Hethecote, William de Glossop, Richard Heyre, William de Hallows and Nicholas de Walton.
It is interesting that the leading name on the Muster Roll is a member of the Ferrers family, Lord Grey of Codnor, who owned much of the land in Derbyshire. The name of John Gretrakes is listed as an archer below that of Peter Leche of Chatsworth, a lancer, who was probably Lord of the Manor where John Gretrakes lived.
The archers, who left England for France in 1415 were people who had been contracted by the king (mercenaries) and who fought for pay, booty and glory. Between the ages of 15 and 25, an archer had to have great strength to pull the Elm longbow. They gained this strength through compulsory daily practice. The fact that John Gretrakes was an archer indicates his position in society. Neither Lord of the Manor, nor peasant, he was of the new 'middle classes' of farmers or Yeomen, who were called upon to provide military service for the King. The total strength of this contingent was 18 knights and 43 archers. This out of a total of 2,000 knights and 8,000 archers in Henry's army. It was probably the full compliment of soldiers from Derbyshire who left England.
The expedition landed in the Seine estuary on 14th August. By the 17th Henry had marched to Granville near Harfleur, and by the 19th had laid siege to the town. Henry had hoped that Harfleur would have capitulated by the 12th September. The heat and damp from the marshes very soon created dysentery amongst his troops. It affected the senior soldiers more freely than the rank and file and it is likely that up to 2,000 of Henry's force were affected. Harfleur capitulated on 22nd September.
Henry decided to march through Normandy to Calais. His total force was about 5,000 archers and 900 men at arms. Moving along the Somme, Henry's movements were shadowed by a force marching parallel on the north bank. The French tactics were to make Henry march up into the area of Peronne where a large French army was waiting to fight his starving and sickly troops. The French army barred the way to Calais and Henry had no alternative but to fight. The position the French chose lay between the woods near the villages of Agincourt and Tramecourt. The French army is estimated to have been between 40,000-50,000 men at arms against which Henry V could muster 6,000 at most.
The battle of Agincourt commenced on the morning of 25th October (St Crispins day) at 9.00am. It is said that Henry V, walked amongst their lines, talking quietly to Archer, Foot soldier and Knight alike. Within 3 hours the battle was won. The lightly clad English/Welsh army had completely destroyed their opponents. The longbow had a range of 300 yards and it was said that the sky went black with the clouds of arrows that struck at the French cavalry, which were positioned on the flanks of the 18,000 French infantry, who took the Centre ground. When it was discovered that the English baggage had been plundered, Henry gave the order to kill the prisoners (about 1,000). This order was not greeted with joy. The loss of so many valuable lives did not go down well with his troops! Financial rewards came by way of ransoms paid for captive opponents. The knights were reluctant to dispose of their reward and, it is said, the archers, who carried mallets and short swords, carried out the massacre.
The battle of Agincourt became famous for the rout of a much larger French army by a much smaller, lightly clad, English force, whose archers were the battle winners. Also, it was at this battle that the first gun, able to kill soldiers, was used by the French army. On the French side the slaughter was enormous with an estimated 1,500 knights and 5,000 men-at-arms, killed, whilst the losses of the English army have been set at 300. We know that it was Henry's archers that were the main reason for this massive defeat of the French army. The long bow used by the English archers had won the day. It is said that the two fingered salute (the 'V sign') originated at this time. English bowman, captured by the French, would have the two fingers, used to draw the bow, cut off. The 'V sign' was said to have been given by the English to the French at Agincourt to show that they still had two fingers to draw their bows.
Henry returned to England on 16th November 1415. What then of one of his troops, John Gretrakes?
Was he one of the archers who slaughtered the French troops with the speed and accuracy of his long bow? He was certainly part of the assembled army who crossed the channel, took Harfleur and inflicted defeat on the French army at Agincourt. He may have died during the siege at Harfleur or en-route to Agincourt.
It is probable that John Gretrakes did fight at Agincourt as part of Henry's army. In 1439 John Greatrakes of Hopton was a witness to a gift by John de Rowsley. The family names of Eyre (Heyre) and Glossope are also registered as witnesses to other deeds. All three names appear in the Agincourt muster roll. It is likely that the John Gretrakes who left for France is the same John Greatrakes de Hopton who, with his friends from the Wirksworth area of Derbyshire, William de Glossop and Richard Heyre, returned home, and therefore must have fought at the battle of Agincourt.
What was it like for a young man, born in the Centre of England, who had probably learned his archery skills to provide food for the table, to find himself crossing the English channel in a ship, ready to do battle in a land of which he knew little or nothing. Would he see his wife and family ever again? Did he go off to war in good spirit, or as a reluctant servant of his master? Did he return home a hero in the eyes of his family and friends and did he spend the rest of his life telling tall stories of his exploits in a foreign country? His grandchildren may have listened to his version of his exploits in France where he may have told them how he personally killed half the French army and rescued Henry's standard from French hands! Or was he ashamed that he took part in the slaughter of French troops who attacked the baggage train, and therefore continued his life in a quiet and reflective way back in his Derbyshire homeland? I wonder!
Llewellyn Jewitt, a 19th century Derbyshire historian, wrote in the Derbyshire Reliquary Magazine that Greatrakes was, in 1364, a great feudal estate . Just 16 years earlier, in 1348, there occurred something that changed the face of Britain and allowed 'new' people to become part of a new land owning autocracy. The Black Death or plague visited Britain. The population of the country was cut by half. Those that survived were now in a much stronger position to dictate how their labour could be used by the major landowners who desperately needed workers and families to work their farms. The Black Death saw the end of serfdom It was probably at this time, that some members of the Greatorex family left the ancestral lands near Buxton to own and farm land in many areas of the County including Hopton, Callow, Carsington and Wirksworth.
In 1433 the name, John Gretrax, de Elton was returned to the Kings commissioners as Gentry of the County of Derby. Living in the same century, if not the contemporary of the aforesaid John, was William Gretraks, of Wormhill. He appears as joint "fefee", with William Palfreyman, "of ye Chapell of Wormhyll". These entries would confirm John Gretrax of Elton as a man of substance and William Gretraks of Wormhill as someone who held lands on the condition of homage and the performance of military service to the Lord of the Manor, by whom it was granted. It was a hereditary position and feudal in character.
Several Greatrakes wills are recorded at this time as well as documents recording the buying, selling, and exchanging of lands. In 1439, John de Greatrakes of Hopton was witness to a gift by John de Rowlsey. In 1453, Henry Gretrakes of Hopton was witness to a gift by Richard Eyre of Hopton. A bond by Henry Gretrakys of Hopton, husbandman, is dated 1487. In 1548 John Gretrakes, yeoman, of Hopton in the County of Derbyshire, exchanged a parcel of land with Thomas Stephull of Hopton. Witnesses to this deed include Ralph Gell, Thomas Eyton, Ralph Eyton all of Hopton and Thomas Glossope of Wirksworth. The transaction was dated the eighth day of March in the first year of the reign of Edward the sixth.
The Manor of Hopton, which became the subject of disagreement and litigation between the ancestors of the Greatrakes family and that of the Gell family is clouded in mystery. In the 13th century, the Crown gave 'The Manor of Hopton' to William de Hopton. William's daughter, Johanna, who married Nicholas de Rollesey, inherited the Manor from her father and sold half to her nephew Ralph Gell. The other half was passed down through 8 generations of de Rollesley to Matilda Rollesley who married Sir William Kniveton. Lyson states, in volume v 297 of MAGNA BRITANNICA that an heiress of a branch of Kniveton of Mercaston holding a moiety (half) of Hopton married a Greatrakes. The moiety of the Manor of Hopton passed to William Greatorex who was born around 1550. He had a son, Richard, who died young and a daughter, Mary, who inherited and married John Fearn of Wirksworth, gent. They had a daughter, Mary Fearn, who married John Stuffin of Shirebrook. In 1620, John Fearn leased some of his estate in Hopton to John Gell. Also in 1620, John Stuffin, husband of the granddaughter of William Greatrakes, sold some land in Hopton to John Gell. As late as 1650 Mary Fearn, the daughter of William Greatrakes, conveyed two capital messuages (a dwelling-house with lands and outbuildings attached) at Hopton to a relative, John Fearn.
There can be no doubt that the Greatrakes family and the Gell family owned large parts of the Manor of Hopton. Both families being very much part of Hopton from at least 1400. Both families believed they were the 'Lords of the Manor', this issue being decided by the courts early in the 17th century. But who was 'Lord of the Manor of Hopton'? and why was this an important issue. How did the Gell family triumph and eventually, not only be the lawful 'Lords of the Manor', but own most of the land in Hopton?
To answer these questions we need to look back to the middle of the 16th century. Ralph Gell and William Greatrakes both appear to each hold a moiety of land in Hopton, which amounted to 300 acres of cultivated land and about 400 acres of pasture and woodland.
Ron Slack, in his book, MAN AT WAR, John Gell in his troubled time, takes up the story of the Gell family.
In the early part of the 16th century Ralph Gell gave the Gell family real financial muscle , and he did it partly at the expense of the religious houses who owned large tracts of land and leased lucrative mineral rights in Derbyshire. Henry VIII gave him his chance when he dissolved the monasteries and sold off their property. Like many others amongst the gentry, Ralph took this unique opportunity to enrich himself . Ralph Gell bought not only land but the lead contained under the soil. The families success in the lead industry made them very wealthy. In 1576 they were granted a coat of arms and their rank had risen from "gent" to "esquire". Ralph's son, Thomas, inherited the estate and his son ,John (who was born on the 22nd June 1593), 5 months before his father died, became the heir. Gell had to face down a determined effort to deny his claim to the manor of Hopton. His chief antagonist was John Fearn (the husband of Mary Greatrakes who held the moiety at Hopton). The Court of Wards ruled in 1607 that Gell was the holder of the manor, citing documents from 1471. Fearn refused to accept Gell's claim and challenged it in the court of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1615 . Fearn argued that the reality was that the Gells were merely "Reeves and rent gatherers" holding office under the Crown, whereby they "intruded upon his Maiesties possession intitulinge them selves to the sayde pretended manor at Hopton". The Court ruled that "the sayde Gell was seised of the sayde Mannor of Hopton aforesayde". The grant of the manor was made by royal decree on the 11th July, 1615. Gell's ownership of Hopton manor meant that his neighbours had a duty to attend meetings of the manor court and would be fined for not attending. In addition, much of their buying, selling and inheriting of land would have to be validated by the court, with a payment to the Lord of the Manor-Gell.
During the following years John Gell became a High Sheriff, Justice of the Peace and a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the County of Derbyshire. In 1642 Gell was made a Baron with the title of Sir John Gell. Charles I needed allies when war was looming with his Parliament and many people were knighted at this time. Gell's baronetcy was abolished by Parliament in 1651, on the assumption that the King to promote his designs against the parliament, did use meanes to draw unto himselfe a party to assist him, and did give titles of honer, dignities, and precedences by patents, unto sutch persons as he thought were or might be servicable to him. Whether the honour genuinely signified the Kings favour or was merely the bribe Parliament later thought it to be, it was an expensive one for John Gell. Payment for honours was an important source of royal income and cost Gell around £1,000.
The Greatrakes lands at Gretraches seem to pass to other families during the middle of the 16th century. In the early 1500s Robert Greatrakes was of Greatrakes. In 1540 his daughter, Elizabeth, married Edward Bagshawe of Wormhyll, Abney and Hucklow, a neighbour with lands adjacent to the Greatrakes estate. Her dowry was in Greatrakes lands. In 1547 George Palfryman bought land from the Greatrakes family. The two estates where the Greatrakes family had land and property, Gretraches and Hopton, and which appear to have been Greatrakes lands for many years, eventually left the family because of the inability of the family to produce a male heir who could continue to hold the land in the name of Greatrakes.
Other members of the family made their mark on medieval England. None more so than the family of William Greatrakes who went to Ireland with a troop to suppress the insurgents of Munster during the reign of Elizabeth the first.
During the end of the reign of Henry VIII, a Suffolk squire named William Cavendish, married a Derbyshire heiress, Bess of Hardwick. Sir William bought Chatsworth House which was adjacent to the Greatrakes and Bagshawe estates and fifteen miles from Hardwick. Both William and Bess were known at the court of Henry VIII. William helped with the destruction of the monasteries carried out by Henry VIII and Bess was a lady-in-waiting at court. The Cavendish family inherited Lismore Castle, by marriage to the family of Boyle. Sir William Cavendish's heir, the Duke of Devonshire, still owns Lismore Castle and Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
William Greatrakes was one of those who joined Sir Walter Raleigh in the devastation of Munster in order to extinguish the Irish rebellion. He was given lands in County Waterford. On William's marriage to Ann Croker in 1591, he seems to have acquired land at Affane, close to Lismore, from his Father-in-law, Richard Croker, who was granted the land by Sir Walter Raleigh.
He was not the only member of his family who left Derbyshire for Ireland. Contemporaneous with him was Hugh Greatrakes of Lismore, a kinsman, if not a brother of William. It cannot be a coincidence that William and Hugh Greatrakes, who came from Derbyshire, were given lands in Ireland close to lands owned by the Cavendish family of Derbyshire in, or near, Lismore. It is possible that the Greatrakes brothers left Derbyshire with Sir William Cavendish and shared in their masters good fortune.
The Rev. Samuel Hayman, BA, who was a maternal descendant of William Greatrakes, wrote the definitive history of the Anglo-Irish family of Greatrakes during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Called, NOTES ON THE FAMILY OF GREATRAKES, it was published in Jewitt's reliquary and I use his words to tell you some of the history of this remarkable branch of the family.
William Greatrakes, born in Derbyshire, circa 1540, "was known," writes his grandson, in a letter to Robert Boyle, "to be a worthy person, and well esteemed in his country (England). Having obtained a commission in the army, he passed over to Ireland with troops intended to act against the insurgents of Munster ; and, marrying there, he became a settler for life in this new country. He obtained a grant of lands, called New Aughmaine (pronounced Affane), situated on the banks of the beautiful river, the Blackwater, near Lismore, in the County of Waterford. Here he erected for himself a strong house of defence, called Norrisland Castle" Dr Smith, in his History of Waterford, 1773 mentions this settlement. " To the east of Lismore, lies New Affane, remarkable for large orchards and considerable plantations of fruit-trees; between which and Tooreen lies the castle of Norrisland". The "orchards" and "fruit-trees" here alluded to, were of Mr Greatrakes' planting. Lasting benefits were thus conferred by him on the country of his adoption. The Blackwater cider enjoys an estimation in Ireland fully equal to that of Devonshire in the sister isle; and it's first production was due to the skilled hands now introduced by Mr Greatrakes. Willam Greatrakes married twice. His first wife was Ann, daughter of Richard Croker, by whom he had a son, William, his heir. He secondly married Elizabeth, daughter of John Smith of Kent and had two sons, Richard, (who was a Lieutenant in Lord Barrymore's regiment in the Irish wars of 1641-1649. Richard had a grant of lands in Ireland from King Charles the second for his military services) and Alan. He also had two daughters, Susan and Elizabeth.
William Greatrakes, the heir to the Greatrakes estate, was born in the year 1573. He is described by his son Valentine as "one that had a Liberal Education , and a competent Estate left him by his father" At an early age he was appointed Clerk of the Crown and Clerk of the Peace of the whole province of Munster. He resigned his offices in 1605. A few years after, he had foolishly involved himself in pecuniary difficulties. His son Valentine, in his letter to Robert Boyle, gently alluding to his failings, tells us that he was " A man lookt upon to be of a generous Spirit, but one that had a mind above his Fortune." William died in 1632.
Willam married Mary, third daughter of Sir Edward Harris, Knight, Chief Justice of Munster and son of Sir Thomas Harris, of Cornworthy Priory, Co Devon. By this marriage he had four sons Valentine, his heir, William, John and Edward and a daughter Mary. Valentine was born at Affane on the fourteenth of February 1628.
The Rev Hayman goes on to say that John is mentioned in the Harleian MSS, No 2218 as "son to William Greatrakes, of Ephane, Esquire" and as bearing for arms "per pale sab. and gul. 3 Leopards Heads erased or half-faced. King James the first, on the 11th February 1615, addresses letters patent to John Greatrakes, gent.," and conveyed to him certain lands in the county or city of Cork.
I find it strange that Valentine, who was born in 1628, is regarded as 'heir' rather than John, who was supposedly born many years earlier. I believe John to be the son of the William Greatrakes who first settled in Ireland and a younger brother to William his heir.
Co-incidentally this is the first mention of the 'Greatrakes' coat of arms. MSS., No 4815 (Crossley's Collections of Grants by the Office of Arms in Ireland) page 175, occurs the name of Greatrakes. The same arms are tricked, at various times, and by different Ulster Kings of Arms. They appear in the funeral certificates of William Greatrakes, in 1628 as well as Valentine's in 1683. They are also described in Berry's "Cyclopedia of Heraldry," (where they are said to have been "confirmed by William Hawkins, Ulster King of Arms"), in Burke's "General Armorie," and other publications; but they were not, at this time, registered in the College of Arms, London!
Because they were in the funeral certificates of William Greatrakes in 1628, mentioned as used by John Greatrakes in 1615, and Valentine Greatrakes in 1683, it is my view that William Greatrakes, born in 1540 and who first settled in Ireland, obtained and used these Arms within the Kingdom of Ireland but that they were never properly registered by the Ulster King of Arms.
Some 250 years later, on the 5th April 1866, Reuben Courtnell Greatorex of London, who commissioned research into the various Greatorex families, put a wrong to right by registering them with the College of Arms. This means that direct descendants of Reuben Courtnell Greatorex, and no other, have the sole right to use these arms.
Valentine Greatrakes, says the Rev Hayman, was born at Affane on the fourteenth of February 1628. His birthday suggested his baptismal name. While he was yet in childhood his father died; and his education was superintended by his mother, who, so soon as he was able to read, placed him at the free school of Lismore, where he remained until he was thirteen. He was designated for the Dublin University; but the rebellion of 1641 broke out, and his mother was compelled to flee with him and several other small children, to England. They were kindly received and protected in Devon, by his uncle, Edmund Harris, who died within a few years, having bequeathed to his sister (Valentines mother) the third part of his estate; and Valentine was now placed under John Daniel Getseus, "an high German Minister" of Stoke Gabriel, Co Devon, with whom he spent some years in classical studies. In 1647, after an absence of five or six years, Mr Greatrakes returned to Ireland; in order, if possible, to recover his paternal property at Affane. In 1649 he was made a Lieutenant in Lord Broghill's (a member of the Boyle family) regiment of horse ; and served in it until the corps was disbanded on the peace of 1656. He now betook himself to a country life at Affane. Soon after, he was appointed Clerk of the peace of the County of Cork, Registrar for Transplantation, and Justice of the Peace. In 1663, he served as High Sheriff for the County of Waterford.
Little is known of Valentine's service in the Cromwellian army. In The Book of Affidavits 1660-1663, Irish Council Office, the affidavit of Edmund Prendergast, made 13th December, 1662, Prendergast complained of the wasting and demolition of his woods, in the county of Tipperary, by men employed under Lieutenant Valentine Greatericks. One thing is sure, as was common during these times, his service to his country was rewarded with extensive lands allocated to him in Ireland. In 1681 Valentine drew up an important deed by which he intended to vest, in the hands of his trustees, a number of his estates totalling 1248 acres. The Irish Record Commissioners report of 1816-1820 records some of the lands, in reward of military service. In total 1311 acres. It can be said that Valentine 'had a good war'.
During his period as Justice of the Peace, Valentine was one of three 'witch-finders' who were present at the trial of Florence Newton, the witch of Youghal. This account of the trial was taken from notes made by Sir William Aston, the judge at the trial.
Florence had been accused of bewitching Mary Longdon who, after a disagreement with her, started to experience fits and that in her fits she often saw Florence Newton. During the trial Mary Longdon gave evidence against her and, at the end of her evidence, Florence Newton, lifting up both her hands together, as they were manacled, cast them in a violent angry motion, upon which Mary Longdon fell down to the ground like a stone, and fell into a most violent fit, biting her own arms and shreeking out in a most hideous manner. Another witness at the trial was Elenor Jones, relict of David Jones. During Florence Newtons imprisonment David Jones had been standing Sentinal over the witch all night. He told his wife next morning that the witch had kissed his hand through the grate and that he had great pain in that arm and feared that she had bewitched him. All that night, and continually from that time, he was restless and ill, complaining exceedingly of a great pain in his arm for seven days together, and at seven day's end be complaining that the pain was come from his arm to his heart. Fourteen days later he died.
Unfortunately there is no record of the verdict. If found guilty (and there can be little doubt that she was), she would have been sentenced to death in pursuance of the Elizabethan Statute.
In 1664 Valentine's life changed dramatically bringing him fame, but it seems, not additional fortune.
Hayman writes, About this time, 1664, he was seized with a strong, overmastering idea, of which I give account in his own words. "I had an impulse, or a strange persuasion in my own mind (of which I am not able to give any rational account to another), which did frequently suggest to me that there was bestowed on me the gift of curing the King's evil which for the extraordinariness of it, I thought to conceal for some time, but at length I communicated this to my wife, and told her, that I did verily believe, that God had given me the blessing of curing the King's Evil; for whether I were in private or publick, sleeping or waking, still I had the same impulse" His wife did not credit him. But one William Maher, of Salterbridge, brought his son, William Maher, to his house; and Mr Greatrakes laid his hands on him, and within one month effected a perfect cure. The next person touched was Margaret Mac Shane, of Ballinecly, in the parish of Lismore, who was restored in six weeks. After this, people infected with the Evil, came to him from different places; and, being stroked by his hands, were mostly cured ( According to the family tradition of the Irish branch, "The Stroker" was wont to lay the opened palm of his right hand on the part affected, repeating thrice " I stroke.......God heals!). So many now flocked to Affane, that the barns and outhouses were filled with the sick; and the benevolent owner even fitted up sheds for their reception. He set apart three days in the week, from six in the morning until six at night, for his work. He made also frequent journeys from home, and visited the neighboring towns on his errands of mercy. Everywhere, and with all people, according to his own settled determination, he declined remuneration and acted gratuitously.
Scrofula was a disease that caused open sores and hideously disfigured. It was believed to be cured exclusively by the touch of the monarch. Anyone else who claimed to be able to do so was in danger of being arraigned as a traitor. It is a testament to Valentine's personality that he escaped punishment from Charles II, who knew of his claim.
Alexander Phaire of St John's, Enniscorthy, Ireland, a son of the well known Commonwealth officer, Colonel Phaire wrote in 1743, "Mr Greatrakes was of large stature, and surprising strength. He has very often taken an handful of hazel nuts, and crack'd most of them with one gripe of his hand, and has often divided a single hazel nut by his thumb and fore-finger. He had the largest, heaviest, and softest hand, I believe, of any man of his time; to which I do attribute the natural reason of the great virtue in his hand, above other men's". He grew so famous that his court was fill'd with diseased every morning, which he always spent in their favour. Wherever he went, a great throng attended him, most of whom he cured; but he would never touch any that look'd venereal, saying, he took that to be a just judgment for their sin. My father, who had the least implicit faith of any man, was in a violent fever; and Mr Greatrakes turned it away in two minutes. He had another time in a terrible ague, which when the fit struck him Mr Greatrakes cured in a minute or two, by holding him by the wrists, and he never had a fit after. Mr Greatrakes also cured a sister of mine of the King's Evil by stroking". I have heard my two eldest sisters, and my eldest brother, and my father and mother, and many other honourable people, that would speak nothing but the truth, often say, that they have many times seen him stroke a violent pain from the shoulder to the elbow, and so to the wrist, and thence to the top of the thumb, and by holding it strongly there for some time, it had evaporated. There are many wonderful relations of this kind which, tho' assuredly true, have so much the air of romance that I have no pleasure in relating them.
In January 1666, on the invitation of Lord Conway of Ragley, Warwickshire, Valentine went to England. From Ragley he passed to Worcester, where he resolved to stay four or five days. At Worcester he received, through Lord Arlington, the Kings command to proceed to London; and in the metropolis he exercised his wondrous gift, publicly in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and privately in the houses of afflicted persons.
Alexander Phaire obviously believed in the powers that Valentine possessed but was still incredulous of the statements of evidence!
Anthony Roe in his book 'The Qabalist Countess', takes up the story of Anne, Viscountess Conway, who suffered from a very debilitating form of headache, probably a version of Migraine.
After trying many 'cures' she had recourse to spiritual healers, in particular the person of Valentine Greatrakes, the most famous occult healer of the seventeenth century. Greatrakes was an Irish gentleman who had served in Cromwell's New Model Army. Shortly after the restoration he was informed by a mysterious impulse that he had the gift to cure the King's Evil (a scrofulous disease, tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands) by touching. Responding to this divine injunction, he found to his surprise that his stroking worked, and he embarked upon a career as a healer, later extending his operations to the ague and other diseases.
After building up a reputation in Ireland, where his patients included the astronomer Flamsteed, he was brought over in 1666 to Ragley, to try his hand at curing the chronic headaches of Anne, Viscountess Conway. This proved beyond his power, although he had been able to cure his own, but his reputation attracted hundreds of miscellaneous sufferers upon whom he performed a number of successful cures.
Championed by many of the leading intellectuals of the day, including Cambridge Platonists, More, Cudworth and Whichcote, and the scientists Robert Boyle and John Wilkins, he was brought in triumph to London, where he healed many members of the crowd who besieged his lodgings. But he failed in a demonstration before Charles II and his court, and in May 1666, only five months after his arrival, returned to Ireland to resume his life as a Justice of the Peace and a country squire.
The scientist, Robert Boyle 1627-1691, wrote in his work diary of the "accounts of cures performed by Valentine Greatrakes during his visit to England in 1666, some witnessed by Boyle himself and some recounted to him by those he healed." Boyle, an eminent scientist, certainly believed in Valentine's abilities to cure some of the sick.
There were those that accused him of fraud, but he offered himself openly and without restriction to investigations by scientists and doctors on a number of occasions. He appears to have taken no reward for his services, did not pretend to cure all, was however credited with curing many! How did he do it?
Anton Mesmer was an 18th century Austrian doctor who was an early practitioner of the art of Hypnosis. Hence the term 'Mesmerism'. He learned his methods from an Austrian Jesuit who was himself inspired by the work of an Irish healer known as the Stroker-Valentine Greatrakes. Perhaps his method was Hypnosis, though he would not have recognised the terminology. This might account for his 'hit and miss' success rate.
His fame is still legendary. So much so that even today he is mentioned on many web sites and in 2003 a play, Blackwater Angel, written by Jim Nolan, recounting the life of Valentine Greatrakes was being performed all over the world!
The Irish branch of the family continued to provide scholars and soldiers after Valentine's death in 1683.
Valentine's brother, William, was a captain in the army and served, in 1694, as High Sheriff of the county of Waterford . His grandson, William, by his eldest son Edward, was a cadet in the East India Company's service and died, in Dacca.
His other Grandson, Osborne, by his third child, Alan, joined His Majesties Navy as a Revenue officer. During the American war of Independence Osborne fitted out many privateers from Youghal, and commanded in person several successively. His first ship was the Tarter, and his last was called the Foxhunter. Whilst commanding the Foxhunter, in 1783, he was killed in action with a Yankee vessel of superior force. Whilst exposed on the poop deck he was shot dead by the enemy's marksmen.
Osborne's brother, William, was commissioned in the army. After his army service he was called to the bar as a barrister and later, in 1779, was the supposed secret author of a periodical of some note, The Letters of Junius. He died en-route from London to Bristol at the Bear Inn, Hungerford on 2nd August 1781 and was buried in Hungerford churchyard. The first public mention of William Greatrakes, in connection with the letters of Junius, was in the Anti-Jacobin Review dated July 1799.
The Cork Mercantile Chronicle, dated September 1804, reproduced a letter from a Mr D. J. Murphy, narrated what he had heard about William Greatrakes, as the amanuensis of Junius. Some time about the year 1767, a young gentleman of the name of Greatrakes, went to London. After going through the necessary studies at Trinity College, Dublin, for the purpose of being called to the Irish bar. After a stay of four or five years, he was seized at Hungerford, on his return home, with a disease which proved mortal. His trunk arrived, agreeable to the direction, to his family in Ireland. A relation of the family was called in by the mother to undertake the task of inspecting his papers, among which he discovered the Letters of Junius, in the handwriting of the deceased young man, with all the interlineations, corrections, and erasures, which sufficiently established them as the original manuscripts.
The other brother of Osborne, Edward, who died in the Bay of Honduras was also a sailor. He had a son Alan, who appears to have been the last representative of the name in Ireland. He died unmarried in 1853 and with him the Irish branch of Greatrakes became extinct. This part of the Greatorex family were a force to be reckoned with in Ireland for 300 years producing soldiers, sailors, literary scholars and many who held high office. Even today the family are known and remembered in the southern counties of Ireland.
In 1995 on a visit to Ireland I met a man in Cappoquin. He told me that locally there was a very famous Anglo-Irish family called Greatrakes who lived in the area many years ago. He was very knowledgeable about the family of Valentine Greatrakes and was obviously proud of the connection the family had with the village. Perhaps he was descended from one of the 'Irish rebels' who attacked Norrisland castle in the civil war of 1641 causing Valentine's mother to seek refuge with her brother in England. Or maybe his ancestor was killed by Lieutenant Greatrakes and his troop in Cromwell's purge of royalist sympathisers carried out between 1649 and 1656. Who knows?
I conclude this chapter on the Greatorex family by mentioning two other members of the family who became well known in the areas of Science and music.
Ralph Greatorex lived in London at St Martin's Lane and had a shop in the Strand. He came from Derbyshire and married Ann Watson in Derby. He was a maker of mathematical instruments and an inventor. Ralph was a friend of Samuel Pepys, who mentions him on a number of occasions in his famous diary's. Ralph took Pepys to Gresham College (later to become the Royal Society). It was Pepys first visit and he recorded in his diaries that he saw the house and a great company of persons of honour there. Ralph Greatorex (he said) was intending to go to Tenariffe to try experiments there. He also recorded seeing the first sphere of wire that Ralph made, a drawing pen (was this a prototype of the later drawing pens, If it was perhaps it should perhaps have been called a 'Greatorex' in the same way that Biro's name was used in the 1950s for a ball point), a revolutionary lamp glass and a fire extinguisher . John Evelyn, who was treated by Valentine Greatrakes, mentions seeing an excellent invention to quench fire made by Ralph Greatorex.
Daniel Greatorex was a maker of nails which was a trade associated with farriers. In June 1745 Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', landed in Scotland with the intention of retrieving the throne for the Stuart dynasty by removing the Hanovarian monarchy. After the battle of Prestonpans he moved south to invade England. George II had two armies to cover the invasion but Bonnie Prince Charlie, with his superb General, Lord George Murray, dissected both armies by marching to Derby. There in December 1745 he was well received by the inhabitants and Daniel Greatorex met and did much business with him. The road to London and the re-taking of the monarchy for the Stuart's was there for the taking. King George's main army, under the command of his son, the Duke of Cumberland, was in Litchfield. His other army, under the command of Marshall Wade was in Northumberland. Unfortunately Charles Edward Stuart lost his nerve and would not take the advice of Murray to march on London. He retreated to Scotland where, at Culloden, the Scots army was decimated by the Duke of Cumberland and, with it, all hope of a return of a Stuart monarchy perished.
Daniel's son, Anthony of Riber Hall, was an accomplished musician and organist at Burton-on-Trent. His son, Thomas Greatorex, was born at North Wingfield in 1758 into a wealthy musical family. He was a fellow of both the Royal and Linnaen Societies and was skilled in mathematics, astronomy and science. In 1772 he moved to London and assisted in concerts at Westminster Abbey; In 1780 he took the position of organist at Carlisle Cathedral ; In 1784 he was studying music in Italy under Signor Santarelli in Rome; In 1788 he returned to London and became a teacher of singing; and the pinnacle of his career was in 1793 when he became conductor of concerts and organist at Westminster Abbey. He died in 1831 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, close to Poet's corner. He conducted the King's Concerts for 40 years; met George IV on a number of occasions; knew Handel well; and, during his period in Italy, discussed music, and no doubt Culloden, with Bonnie Prince Charlie. What an interesting life Thomas Greatorex had!