Walter Calverley

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Walter Calverley (died 1605) was an English squire and murderer. His story became the basis of more than one literary work of the early 17th century.

Early life[edit]

Walter Calverley was the eldest son and heir of William Calverley (d.1572), by his wife Katherine, daughter of John Thorneholme of Haysthorpe, Yorkshire, and the grandson Sir Walter Calverley by Anne Danby, daughter of Sir Christopher Danby (d. 14 June 1571) and Elizabeth Neville, daughter of Richard Neville, 2nd Baron Latimer.[1]

The Calverleys were lords of the manors of Calverley and Pudsey, Yorkshire. His father died when he was a boy. He inherited land at Burley-in-Wharfedale, Fagley, Farsley, Eccleshill, Bolton, and Seacroft; a relative of William Brooke, 10th Baron Cobham, became his guardian.

He studied at Clare Hall, Cambridge from 5 May 1579, matriculating on 1 October, but he was there only a short time and took no degree. He became engaged to the daughter of a neighbour in Yorkshire.[2]

Marriage, crime and death[edit]

When Calverley visited London, his guardian insisted on his breaking this engagement and on his marrying Philippa, a granddaughter of Lord Cobham. Calverley went back to Calverley Hall with his wife, whom he disliked, and adopted a lifestyle revolving around drinking and gambling. He soon ran through all his money.[2]

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 rushed at his two eldest children, William and Walter, the former four years old and the latter 18 months (baptised at Calverley on 4 October 1603) and killed them both; at the same time he stabbed his wife, but not fatally. He then rode off to a neighbouring village where a third infant son, Henry, was out at nurse, intending to kill him as well, 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 on 5 August.[2]


Calverley's widow remarried Sir Thomas Burton of Stokerston, Leicestershire.[2]

His estates escaped forfeiture and descended to his surviving son Henry, later a royalist and fined 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 January 1661, and was succeeded by a son Walter, who was knighted by Charles II in consideration of his father's loyalty.

In literature[edit]

Title page of A Yorkshire Tragedy (1608)

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 August by an account of Calverley's death. A ballad was also issued by another publisher, Thomas Pavier, at the same time. Calverley's story was twice dramatised — first by George Wilkins in Miseries of Enforced Marriage (1607), and, secondly, in A Yorkshire Tragedy which was first published by Pavier in 1608, under the title A Yorkshire Tragedy - not so new as lamentable and true: written by W. Shakspeare. The latter was included in the third and fourth folios of William Shakespeare's works (1664 and 1685), but is no longer considered to be his work (modern scholarship generally favouring Thomas Middleton).[2]



  • Attribution

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney (1886). "Calverley, Walter". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 8. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 265.