BELGRAVE, George (1563-1630), of Belgrave, Leics.
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Family and Education
b. 19 Sept. 1563, s. of Ambrose Belgrave of Belgrave by Jane or Joan, da. of Anthony Stoughton of Worplesdon, Surr. educ. Christ’s, Camb. 1579; G. Inn 1584. m. Lucretia, da. of Thomas Wilson, 4s. 4da. suc. fa. 1571. Kntd. 1603.
Freeman, Leicester c.1599, commr. subsidy c.1600; sheriff, Leics. May-Nov. 1600, j.p.q. from c.1593.
On the one occasion Belgrave stood for Parliament he was the centre of a comic opera contest, caused by hostility between his own and the Hastings family, dating from the time when Belgrave’s father was the ward of the 2nd Earl of Huntingdon. In or shortly before February 1596, Belgrave, then employed collecting tenths and fifteenths in Leicestershire, petitioned the Privy Council against Henry Hastings (presumably a younger son of the 4th Earl of Huntingdon) asserting that Hastings and some of his servants had lately ‘done him great violence to the endangering of his life and the breach of the peace and to some hindrance of her Majesty’s service’. The Privy Council ordered a local enquiry. A year later the 4th Earl wrote to Michael Hickes, Burghley’s secretary, complaining of Beigrave’s behaviour and asking Hickes to withdraw his favour from him. Belgrave, however, held his own, partly, perhaps, as the Earl remarked, through Hickes’s friendship, but also, no doubt, through his popularity in Leicester, a borough which nevertheless looked to Huntingdon as its noble patron. Belgrave was not only subsidy commissioner there, but, in October 1599 was appointed arbitrator in a local controversy over market tolls. This task he carried out with impartiality, and had certain ‘gifts and fayours’ bestowed on him by the mayor and corporation. It is clear from the relevant correspondence that he antagonized neither the Leicestershire gentry nor his friends in the town. When, in September 1601, the mayor wrote to the Earl of Huntingdon, sounding him about his choice of candidates, the Earl replied that, whoever they elected, it must not be Belgrave, if they wanted to retain his friendship. He later asserted that Belgrave, his ‘noted enemy’ and ‘daily detractor’, wished for election to avoid his numerous creditors. Belgrave, knowing that he had the support of many electors, who were nevertheless loth to antagonize the Earl, sought to placate his opponent by offering to become his dependant; when this gesture failed, he donned the Huntingdon livery and appeared at the election announcing (and offering to confirm on oath) that he had become the Earl’s servant the night before. As the electors were, according to William Skipwith II, ‘both willing and worthy to be deceived’, after a show of doubt they elected Belgrave. The Earl now caused a bill to be lodged against Belgrave in the Star Chamber during a parliamentary session, thereby raising the issue of privilege. The lower House debated the matter and resolved that its privilege had not been abused. The end of the Star Chamber case is not known, but a letter survives from Belgrave to the Earl of Shrewsbury, written in July 1602, asking for protection. He had not yet made his public submission to Huntingdon, because he dared not appear at the assizes for fear of arrest for debt. He asked that the execution of a Star Chamber judgment for contempt should be suspended.
Whether or not Shrewsbury helped him, Belgrave’s troubles were not at an end. In March 1603 he wrote from prison to Cecil apologising for speeches made ‘in impatience of the county’s grievances and my own’, assuring him that he would ‘hereafter ... not complain of public defects’, but instead, would retire into private life. ‘My afflictions the last 14 years’, he added, ‘would have made a wiser man mad. Let my imprisonment be sufficient punishment for my verbal offence.’ In 1611 he was among the three Leicestershire gentlemen who wrote to Salisbury offering to compound for purveyance on behalf of their county. Four years later, he and Sir John Kennedy were arrested for falsely accusing a gentleman of scandalous speeches against the Scots: the two were committed to the Gatehouse in London and a few days later summoned before the Privy Council.
Belgrave probably died in 1630. Neither will nor inquisition post mortem has been found.
Nichols, Leics. iii. 177; Vis. Leics. (Harl. Soc. ii), 68-9; C142/161/92; H. Hartopp, Leicester Freemen, 96; C66/1549; CPR, 1558-60, p. 294; APC, xxv. 216; Lansd. 83, f. 65; Leicester Recs. iii 370, 374, 388, 392-3, 414; Neale, Commons, 171-6; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 289-90, 296; Coll. of Arms, Talbot mss, vol. M, f. 65, transcribed by G. R. Batho; CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 303; 1611-18, pp. 73, 288-9; APC, 1615-16, p. 210.