Laurence Shirley Ferrers - Encyclopedia




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LAURENCE SHIRLEY FERRERS, 4TH Earl (1720-1760), the last nobleman in England to suffer a felon's death, was born on the 18th of August 1720. There was insanity in his family, and from an early age his behaviour seems to have been eccentric, and his temper violent, though he was quite capable of managing his business affairs. In 1758 his wife obtained a separation from him for cruelty. The Ferrers estates were then vested in trustees, the Earl Ferrers secured the appointment of an old family steward, Johnson, as receiver of rents. This man faithfully performed his duty as a servant to the trustees, and did not prove amenable to Ferrer's personal wishes. On the 18th of January 1760, Johnson called at the earl's mansion at Staunton Harold, Leicestershire, by appointment, and was directed to his lordship's study. Here, after some business conversation, Lord Ferrers shot him. In the following April Ferrers was tried for murder by his peers in Westminster Hall. His defence, which he conducted in person with great ability, was a plea of insanity, and it was supported by considerable evidence, but he was found guilty. He subsequently said that he had only pleaded insanity to oblige his family, and that he had himself always been ashamed of such a defence. On the 5th of May 1760, dressed in a lightcoloured suit, embroidered with silver, he was taken in his own carriage from the Tower of London to Tyburn and there hanged. It has been said that as a concession to his order the rope used was of silk.

See Peter Burke, Celebrated Trials connected with the Aristocracy in the Relations of Private Life (London, 1849); Edward Walford, Tales of our Great Families (London, 1877); Howell's State Trials (1816), xix. 885-980.

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