Sir Roger Manners (1575-1632) was a younger son of Sir John Manners of Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, and a grandson of an Earl of Rutland. He was born at Haddon Hall about 1575. While his brother inherited that estate, Roger acquired the recently purchased manor of Whitwell, the mansion which his father re-built for him. He probably resided at the property from a fairly early age and it became his on his father’s death in 1611. His mother, Dorothy Vernon, died when he was a child.

In 1594 Roger studied law at the Middle Temple in London; it is one of the Inns of Court where lawyers are trained. Although he probably had no intention of practicing law, a legal education would be useful later in estate management and for duties as a Justice of the Peace. It would be of interest to know if he saw any of Shakespeare’s plays, prominent in the city theatres in the 1590s; Romeo and Juliet perhaps.

His monument’s emphasis on military prowess raises the question whether he was in the muster which his father gathered to repulse the Spaniards had they landed in 1588. Even at 13 years old, it is possible he was there. In the 1590s he may have served in the military expeditions to Brittany and Ireland. What is certainly true is that he settled down to the life of a country gentleman and a person of note in this part of Derbyshire.

Then followed a crisis in the Manners family. In 1601 his cousin, the young and headstrong Earl of Rutland, got involved in the rebellion of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, against the aged Elizabeth I. Although he had been her favourite, Essex paid for his folly with his life and Rutland was lucky to escape the block.

When a parliament was called that same year, the family persuaded Roger to become an MP for the Manners’ pocket borough of East Retford, Which the earl controlled. Maybe Roger was to ‘fly the flag’ in the capital and bluff it out for a family in deep disgrace. He may not have enjoyed the experience, since it was his only spell in Westminster. It was the queen’s last parliament, when she made her famous ‘Golden’ speech, concluding with, “Though you have had and may have many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have any that will be more careful and loving”. Only about half the MPs heard her, but Roger may have been instructed to attend since the queen would have wanted the Manners family to know that she was very much alive and well.

Roger was a bachelor, was active in county affairs and was knighted by King James I in 1615. In 1618-19 he was High Sheriff of Derbyshire and it is clear that the king had no unease over his loyalty. As patron of the St Lawrence living he appointed Tobias Waterhouse rector in 1612. When the latter left the parish in 1627, it may have been over a dispute with his patron.

Sir Roger Manners died of wounds in Whitwell Manor aged about 57 following, so it is said, a skirmish between 2 groups of armed retainers on Whitwell Common. This might have been a boundary dispute with a Barlborough landowner or, what is just as likely, over Charles I’s arbitrary military taxes collected by the Cavendish Earl of Newcastle, Bolsover and Welbeck. The estate passed through the Manner’s cousins to the Dukes of Rutland.

Sir Roger asked to be buried in Whitwell church with as “small funeral pomp as may be, having respect to my birth and calling”.

The Manners tomb on the west wall of the North Transept, composed of Chellaston marble, is notable for Sir Roger’s recumbent effigy in armour. The visor on the helmet is known to be very unusual, even rare for the 1630s when the figure was carved. The carvings on the plinths at the base of the columns refer to military matters and those on the sides would appear to be places connected with his life, such as parliament, a temple (eastern) for the Inner Temple, a church with a spire (Lichfield or Bakewell?) and a fortified dwelling (Haddon or Belvoir?).

The cryptic verse on his monument suggests a Renaissance man; a eulogy to a military knight with a love of learning and study. To what does ‘true fabrique’ refer? Was he a crypto catholic (his cousin, the earl, was openly one, though the family generally remained protestant in subsequent generations) or was he strongly anti-puritan?

  • A living academic was this knight
  • Divinity, the arts, the tongs, what might
  • In learned schooles exactly be profest
  • Tooke up theire lodgings in his noble brest
  • Till death, like church despoilers, did pull down
  • Manners true fabrique and the arts renowne