Open main menu


CALVERLEY, WALTER (d. 1605), murderer, was son and heir of William Calverley, by his wife Katherine, daughter of John Thorneholme of Haysthorpe, Yorkshire. The Calverleys had been lords of the manors of Calverley and Pudsey, Yorkshire, since the twelfth century, and in addition to these manors Walter inherited from his father, who died while he was a boy, lands at Burley-in-Wharfdale, Bagley, Tarsley, Eccleshall, Bolton, and Seacroft. After his father's death a relative of Lord Cobham became Calverley's guardian. He was educated at Cambridge, where he entered as scholar of Clare Hall 5 May 1579, and was matriculated on 1 Oct. following. He took no degree, and apparently soon left the university. Being left to his own devices at home in Yorkshire, he affianced himself to the daughter of a humble neighbour. Subsequently coming to London, his guardian insisted on his breaking this engagement and on his marrying Philippa, daughter of Sir John Brooke, son of George, lord Cobham. This marriage took place and proved Calverley's ruin. He withdrew to Calverley Hall with his wife, whom he detested, and sought distraction in drinking and gambling; he soon squandered his large fortune, mortgaged all his lands, and spent his wife's dowry. On 23 April 1605 news was brought him that a relative, a student at Cambridge, had been arrested for a debt for which he himself was responsible. In a drunken frenzy he straightway rushed at his two eldest children, William and Walter, the former four years old and the latter eighteen months (baptised at Calverley on 4 Oct. 1603) and killed them both; at the same time he stabbed his wife, but not fatally. Immediately afterwards he rode off to a neighbouring village where a third infant son, Henry, was out at nurse, with a view to murdering him, but he was stopped on the road and taken before Sir John Savile, a magistrate, who committed him to prison at Wakefield. After some delay he was brought to trial at York in August following; he declined to plead, and was therefore pressed to death in York Castle (5 Aug.). His estates thus escaped forfeiture and descended to his surviving son Henry. The widow remarried Sir Thomas Burton of Stokerston, Leicestershire. Calverley's position gave his crime wide notoriety. On 12 June Nathaniel Butter published a popular tract on the subject, which was followed on 24 Aug. by an account of Calverley's death. A ballad was also issued by another publisher, Thomas Pavyer or Pauier, at the same time. Calverley's story was twice dramatised—first by George Wilkins [q. v.] in ‘Miseries of Enforced Marriage’ (1607), and, secondly, in ‘The Yorkshire Tragedy,’ which was first published by Thomas Pavyer or Pauier in 1608, and bears the title ‘The Yorkshire Tragedy—not so new as lamentable and true: written by W. Shakspeare.’ A new edition appeared in 1619. Although conceived in the finest spirit of tragedy, there is no substantial ground for attributing the ‘Yorkshire Tragedy’ to Shakespeare, and it was probably first associated with his name by the enterprising publisher to create a sale for it. It was included in the third and fourth folios of Shakespeare's works (1664 and 1685). The theory that makes Thomas Heywood the author has much in its favour.

Henry Calverley, Walter's heir, was a sturdy royalist, and was mulcted in a composition amounting to 1,455l. by the sequestrators under the Commonwealth. He was the last of the family to reside regularly at Calverley Hall. He married, first, Elizabeth, daughter of John Moore of Grantham; secondly, Joyce, daughter of Sir Walter Pye. He died on 1 Jan. 1660–1, and was succeeded by a son Walter, who was knighted by Charles II in consideration of his father's loyalty.

[Whitaker's Loidis and Elmet, pp. 289 &c., where an account of Calverley's crime from a rare contemporary tract is printed at length; Memoirs of Sir W. Blackett, with a pedigree of the Calverleys (1819), p. 16; Arber's Stationers' Register, iii. 292, 299; Stow's Chronicle, sub anno 1605; Collier's Dramatic Poetry, ii. 438–439; Cooper's Athenæ Cantabr. iii. 10 (unpublished).]

S. L. L.