Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Egerton, John (1579-1649)

770024Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 17 — Egerton, John (1579-1649)1889Sidney Lee

EGERTON, JOHN, first Earl of Bridgewater (1579–1649), born in 1579, was the second but only surviving son of Sir Thomas Egerton, lord Ellesmere [q. v.], by his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Ravenscroft, esq., of Bretton, Flintshire. He went to Ireland in Essex's expedition of 1599 with his elder brother Thomas, who was killed there. He was baron of the exchequer of Chester from 25 Feb. 1598-9 till 21 Feb. 1604-6 in succession to his brother, and was M.P. for Shropshire in 1601. His father's position at Elizabeth's court caused the young man to be made a knight of the Bath on James I's arrival in England (24 July 1603), and he went to Oxford with the royal party in 1605, when he received the honorary degree of M.A. His father's letters suggest that he was seriously ill in 1603 and permanently lame (Egerton Papers, pp. 362, 365). On his father's death, 15 March 1616-17, he became second Viscount Brackley, and on 27 May following was promoted to the earldom of Bridgewater in accordance with James I's promise to his father. Buckingham is reported to have extorted 20,000l. from the new earl as the price of the honour. About the same time he became a member of the council of Wales. He married Frances Stanley, daughter and coheiress of Ferdinando, earl of Derby. The lady's mother was his father's third wife. Bridgewater and his wife lived at Ashridge in the parish of Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, about sixteen miles from his father's house at Harefield, where his stepmother, who was also his wife's mother, long resided after her husband's death. About 1634 the earl's children took part in the first performance of Milton's 'Arcades' at Harefield. Bridgewater became a privy councillor on 4 July 1626, and on 20 June 1631 was nominated president of the council of Wales, with an official residence at Ludlow Castle, Shropshire. He became lord-lieutenant of the counties on the Welsh border and of North and South Wales 8 July 1631. Bridgewater first went to Wales on 12 May 1633, and it was not till the autumn of the next year that he made his public entrance into the Principality. Great festivities were held at Ludlow, where an elaborate series of instructions was signed by Charles I at Theobald's (Rymer, Fœdera, xix. 449-65). Milton's 'Comus' was written for the occasion, and was first acted at Ludlow Castle 29 Sept. 1634 by the earl's children [see Egerton, John, second Earl of Bridgewater] . Many of the earl's ofiicial letters written in Wales are preserved in the Record Office.

Bridgewater lived a very retired life after the civil wars broke out. He was joint-commissioner of array for Flintshire, Denbighshire, and Merionethshire in May 1643, but soon afterwards withdrew to his house at Ashridge, where he died on 4 Dec. 1649. He was buried in the neighbouring church of Little Gaddesden, where a laudatory inscription records numberless virtues.

Bridgewater had literary tastes and improved the library left him by his father. One R. C. dedicated to him, in an elaborate poem, a translation of Seneca (Lond. 1635). Bridgewater's autograph is reproduced in Collier's 'Bridgewater Catalogue,' p. 322, from a copy in the Bridgewater Library of John Vicars's 'Babel's Balm' (1624), which is also dedicated to Bridgewater.

By his wife, Frances, daughter and coheiress of Ferdinando Stanley, earl of Derby, Bridgewater had four sons and eleven daughters. Two sons, James and Charles, died young, and two, John [q. v.] and Charles, survived him. Of his daughters, one named Alice and another Anne died young, and Cecilia did not marry. Frances was wife of Sir John Hobart of Blickling, Norfolk; Arabella married Oliver, lord St. John, son of the Earl of Bolingbroke; Elizabeth married David, son of Sir Richard Cecil; Mary married Richard, son of Edward, lord Herbert of Cherbury; Penelope married Sir Robert Napier of Luton; Catherine was wife of William, son of Sir William Courten [q. v.]; Magdalen married Sir Gervase Cutler, and Alice Richard Vaughan, earl of Carberry. The Countess of Bridgewater died 11 March 1635–6.

[Dugdale's Baronage, ii. 415; Collins's Peerage, ii. 232–5; Doyle's Baronage, i. 224–6; Masson's Life of Milton, i. 552 et seq.; Gardiner's Hist. of England; Egerton Papers (Camd. Soc), 1840; Clutterbuck's Hertfordshire; R. H. C[live]'s Documents connected with the History of Ludlow and the Lords Marchers (1841), pp. 182–3; Cal. State Papers (Dom.) 1633–43.]

S. L. L.