Born: 1555, Vale Royal, Cheshire, England
Died: 16 Jan 1606, Stepney, London, England
Buried: St. Mary the Virgin Church, Bottesford, Leicesterhire, England
Father: Thomas HOLCROFT (Sir)
Mother: Julianne JENNINGS
Married: Edward MANNERS (3° E. Rutland) 6 Jun 1573
1. Elizabeth MANNERS (B. Ros)
Isabel was the daughter of Thomas Holcroft, by his wife Julianne Jennings (b. ABT 1534 - d. 13 Jul 1595), dau. and heiress of Sir Nicholas Jennings, Alderman of London.
The Holcroft arms includes two unusual emblems. One shows a squirrel eating what may be a nut. The other, seen here, shows a black bird (a sea-eagle) and an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. The sea-eagle may be associated with her father’s post as Vice-Admiral for the Coast of Lancashire and Cheshire. Isabel had a brother, Sir Thomas, who married Elizabeth, a sister of Edward Fitton of Gosworth (b. ABT 1548 - d. 1606). Fitton married Alice Holcroft (d. 4 Jan 1627), cousin of Isabel and Thomas.
Despite his general obedience to his influential guardian, Edward Manners refused Lord Burghley’s suggestion to marry his daughter. After negotiations with several other ladies like Frances Howard (dau. of William, lord Howard of Effingham, later Countess of Hertford) and Elizabeth Hastings (dau. of Francis, second Earl of Huntingdon, later Countess of Worcester), he choose Isabel, a maid of honor to Queen Elizabeth. In a letter from court in 1571 Sir George Delves mentions Isabel Holcroft, whom he may have been courting on Rutland’s behalf. It was claimed by Isabel’s mother “that the Earl was so deeply in love that he was willing to marry the girl even without a marriage portion”.
While married to Edward, Isabel enjoyed a luxurious life. She resided mostly in the lavish Belvoir Castle. Her journey to London with her husband in 1586 involved “forty-one servants, including a chaplain, trumpeter, gardener and apothecary”.
In Jan 1574/5, Isabel gave birth to her only child, a daughter named Elizabeth. Without a male heir, Edward died on 14 Apr 1587.
Of the lady Isabel, widow of Earl Edward, we have the
following original letter to the lord keeper Puckering, on an interesting
matter of business:
“May it please your lordship; havinge understandinge that you are snortly to graunt forth a commission of fewers for the redressing of such harmes and losses as we that are dwellers upon Trent sustaine by wiers thereon builded; myselfe, being her majesties tenant of milles and fishinges in Trent, receavinge more losse thereby then any one person in Nottinghamshire; hearinge that some in that countie intend to make manes to your lordship that the earle of Shrewsbure might not be nominated a commissioner therin; having had some experience what scope the gentlemen in that countie will take, if ther be not joined unto them some whome they shall reverence (as they have good cause to do his lordship), as well for the publicke good of those thires wherin my chefest livinge lyeth, as for my owne particular: I am an humble futor to your lordship, that it will please you to lett the Earl of Shrewsbure be a commissioner; and for that your lordship sussers the inhabitants about Trent to alledge whom they thinke fitt or unfit to be commissioners in the shires of Lincolne, Nottinham, and Derby; I have presumed, as one interested in the cause, to send your lordship a note by this bearer my servant Fanner, whom I have appointed to declare to your lordship the reasons that induceth me to recommend some more then other; and as it pleaseth your lordship of your honourable favour to grant, to make Mr. William Cecill a commissioner, so I beseech you let him be one, that he may learne howe to do good in country causes, wherof he hath yet very little skill. My solicitor writt to me your lordship’s pleasure, was to have a note of the landes descended to my daughter Ros in possession, which I sent your lordship, wherein I have truly fett doune the utmost valewe, unleffe I omitted some od shillings, for the poundes I knowe I fett downe truly, only I omitted the landes in Northhumberland, wheron my lorde entred the March before his death, but he nor his daughter never receved one peny for the same. I pray your lordship geve me leave to have a coppy of the valewe of her lands which the adverse parte hath delivered you; and with my humble thanks for your lordship’s many honourable favours, I commit you God.
Your lordship’s to command, ISABEL RUTLAND.
This 18th of November, 1592, at Stepney.
To the right honourable my very good lord
Sir John Puckeringe, lord keeper of the
Great feal of England, dd.”
The fact that Isabel and Edward had no male heir to inherit most of the family’s properties created a serious and ongoing conflict between Isabel, who outlived her husband, and his male heirs.
On Edward's death the Barony of Ros passed to his daughter, Elizabeth, but the Earldom of Rutland devolved upon his brother, John. In Jan 1589 Elizabeth Manners married at Newark Castle William Cecil, Lord Burghley, son of Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter and Dorothy Neville. Lord Burghley later succeeded as 2nd Earl. She died in childbirth, in London, at Tower Street, All Hallows, Barking and was buried in Westminster Abbey. She was succeeded in the Barony of Ros by her son, William.
John Manners, Isabel’s brother in-law, who became the 4th Earl of Rutland, tried to prevent her from receiving what was clearly promised to her under her late husband’s will, claiming that the huge payment for Edward’s funeral should first be paid in full out of her share. Isabel had to sue her brother in-law and seemed to have won, if only partially, when the issue was decided by arbitrators, including Lord Burghley.
John’s revenge was to try to take from Isabel the custodial rights over her young daughter, maintaining that her bourgeois ancestry made her an unsuitable guardian for a great lady. Evidently, Edward’s male heirs were extremely unhappy about his decision to marry Isabel, especially since they had to support her throughout her widowhood after she contributed little, or nothing, to the family’s fortunes.
In 1594, Elizabeth Charlton sued to recover for the estate of her husband, the fourth Earl of Rutland, an assortment of jewels allegedly taken by Isabel, the widow of the third Earl of Rutland. Elizabeth bested Isabel in the clash of the countesses, and Isabel was found liable for 940 pounds.
In 1604, a report of Edward Coke says that Isabel, dowager Countess of Rutland, sued Roger, the 5th Earl of Rutland. At the heart of these legal proceedings stood a manor called Eykering House and additional land of unclear nature named the “Lady Park” – both located in the county of Nottingham. The Countess blamed the Earl “for breaking her house and close”, but no further details are provided regarding this occurrence. The Earl’s response was “not guilty”. The dispute between the Countess and the Earl arose from a conflict between two written contracts that were both made by the late Edward Earl of Rutland with regard to the property.
Sir Gilbert Gerard’s name appears on both of the contradictory indentures. Gilbert Gerard and Isabel were first-cousins: his mother, Margaret Holcroft, was the sister of Isabel’s father. In addition, his co-trustee to the first indenture was Thomas Holcroft, Isabel’s brother, who is mentioned in our Case as Edward’s “brother” for being his brother in-law.
In the first contract Edward covenanted with several trustees that he would convey to them the property in order to ensure his own and his wife’s use of the property, during their life together. The covenant went on to say that if he died first his wife, Isabel, would have the right to use the property for the rest of her life. According to this covenant it was only after the Countess’ death that the property was supposed to fall into the hands of Edward’s heirs, who where represented by Roger, the current Earl of Rutland. More than half a year later another written contract was made by the same Edward. This later contract dealt with a much larger parcel of land which contained many properties including Eykering House. This time the list of trustees was longer and they were supposed to make sure that the specified lands, including the disputed property, were transferred in male-tail only, which means from Edward directly to his male heirs without any rights whatsoever to be given to Isabel the Countess.
No one knows for sure whether Isabel or Roger won the Case. What is known through the reports is only the directory to the jury made by the judges. Chief Justice Popham, together with “all the court”, was reported by Coke as setting the general rule that a written deed will bar parol evidence. The reasoning was, in Coke’s much-quoted words, that:
“…it would be inconvenient that matters in writing made by advice and on consideration, and which finally import the certain truth of the agreement of the parties should be controlled by averment of the parties to be proved by the uncertain testimony of slippery memory”.
Isabel and Roger held contradicting documents that gave each of them the exclusive rights to Eykering House (and the Lady Park). Isabel had in addition several witnesses to support her claim and the court allowed hearing them as an exception to the more general rule that it had just made: the parol evidence rule.
Countess Isabel died on 16 Jan 1606, Stepney, London. At Bottesford Church in Leicestershire is the tomb commemorating the third Earl and his wife. It was created by Gerard Johnson the elder of Southwark, a famous Flemish craftsman. Earl Edward lies on a mat, wearing full plate armour. Instead of a gorget protecting his throat he wears a ruff. He wears the Order of the Garter on his left leg. His coronet has disappeared and at his feet is a decorated bull crest. Countess Isabel wears a ruff with the usual dress of the time under an ermine trimmed mantle, her head supported by a cushion. Her only daughter, Elizabeth, kneels at her feet.
Keren, Hila. (2004). Textual Harassment: A New Historicist Reappraisal of the Parol Evidence With Gender in Mind.
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