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Keeper of Eye Castle threatens to hang Thomas Sherman by his heels in the dungeon

Ruined remains of Eye Castle

Many of the Sherman’s in our line are noted in a book written by Bertha L. Stratton, titled “Transatlantic Shermans.” Only one used copy was available on Amazon for the hefty price of $75.00. Fortunately, I found and borrowed a digitized online copy for the affordable price of nothing.  If you are interested, are tired of watching football, you can borrow Barbara Stratton’s book from the Boston Public Library for fourteen days and wade through nearly 300 pages of Sherman history.  

Our 14th great grandfather, Thomas Sherman, the attorney who practiced in The Court of Common Pleas, was discussed in the previous blog, and it detailed a long standing feud where Jane Waller Sherman frustrates a knighted neighbor from taking cattle in payment for unpaid rent.  

Stratton’s book reveals a number of additional court proceedings in which Thomas himself was a plaintiff or a defendant. They paint a more complete picture of who Thomas Sherman was. I’m not sure how Thomas and Jane Waller met, but they appear to have been a match made somewhere well short of heaven.  A more formidable duo is hard to picture.  If you are expecting your 15th century grandfather to be the noble and honorable ancestor in this blog, you will be disappointed.

Listed below are more court documents unearthed by Stratton involving Thomas Sherman.

Thomas had a particularly nasty and drawn out vendetta with his neighbor, Thomas Grey.  In 1537, Thomas Sherman sued Thomas Grey, who he claimed “with force and arms”, came on to his property and took away cows, heifers, and bullocks belonging to him.  In 1539, the feud continues in “The Court of Augmentation”, where Thomas Sherman is named the plaintiff, versus Thomas Grey once more.  This new Court was set up by King Henry VIII in 1536 to augment the revenues of the crown.  One tangential scheme of this Court was to take the catholic monasteries and sell the property to wealthy landowners. 

Interior of Eye Castle Ruins

In this particular suit Thomas Grey contends that a number of Thomas Sherman’s cattle strayed out of their pasture and into the Goswold Wood, owned by Thomas Grey.  They were distrained (taken) by Grey and driven into the pound located in the Castle of Eye.  This was a medieval castle that was built in 1066, and largely destroyed as a result of wars by the year 1265. Parts of the ruined castle were still being used in the 15th Century as a prison and stock holding facility. Nicholas Cutler, keeper of said pound and castle, refused to deliver up the cattle to Thomas Sherman, threatening to famyish (starve) them unless plaintiff (Thomas Sherman) pay up, and in addition threatened to “lay plaintiff fast up by the heels in the dungeon of Eye Castle, until the debt be paid.”  I can picture this Nicholas Cutler, big fear-provoking dungeon master with a scar across his cheek, threatening to hang our 14th great grandfather up by his heels.  Thomas Sherman reluctantly, but wisely, paid up, and some of the money paid by our grandfather helped refill King Henry’s treasury.

Not one familiar with restraint or forgiveness, Thomas again sues Thomas Grey in 1538, for taking his cattle and driving them to Thraniston.  In 1540, he sued Grey for cutting brush on his property, and in 1545, for taking cattle from his properties at Eye and Yaxley, and again for trampling the grass. In that same year of 1540, in an Inquisition (deposition?) given by Thomas Grey, the jury finds that “Thomas Sherman is a common noyer (brute), a synester oppressor, a wrong doer, and disturber of his neighbors.”

Shakespearean end to Grey vs. Sherman feud

The bad blood between the two families is similar to the Montague’s and Capulet’s in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet written in London, a short journey from Yaxley.  The feud between the Grey’s and the Sherman’s has a similar but less tragic ending when Thomas Grey’s daughter Sybil, marries Thomas Sherman’s son Francis.

Between 1544 and 1547 Thomas Sherman was sued by the parson of Gryslynham, charged with buying a parcel of land next to the church and “being of a greedy and covetous mynde” entered on globe land and enclosed it.  Basically, he was accused of land locking the property next to the church.

Thomas Sherman then commenced an action of trespass against the parson in the Court of Common Pleas for the felling of two oak trees.  This ended up going to the Chancery Court for resolution.  The action the Chancery Court took is unknown. It was a common complaint that land was enclosed privately, bit by bit, so that the encroachment was not noticed until it was too late.

Proceeding in Chancery Court (Monkey not directly related)

In 1550, again in The Court of Common Pleas, Thomas brought a complaint against William Edwards, a peddler, that “with force and arms upon him, did make assault” on Thomas at Yaxley, “and him beat and ill used, so that his life was despaired of.” It's suspected that the beating and resulting injuries led to Thomas' death some months later on 16 November 1551.  In the span of time between his beating and his death, he was fined for yet another suit in Manor Court in Diss.

I found it interesting how carefully this epitaph on Thomas was worded; "He was a man forceful and interesting, of ability and influence."   The union between Thomas Sherman and Jane Waller, however fractious or harmonious it may have been,  does provide the next link in our heritage in producing Henry Sherman, who wisely chose not to follow his father into the legal profession.  He will be the subject of our next blog.

There were, and are today, a lot of Shermans in Suffolk County who aren’t actually related, which complicates the history. The Shermans must have bred like rabbits, because in Suffolk County there are many, I repeat, many legal references, wills, parish records, and civic documents referencing the ever proliferating Sherman offspring,  Add to that, the errors and faulty research riddling the internet, and you don’t know what the Sam Hill to accept as true. There are legions of Shermans in America who trace their history back to Thomas Sherman, including William Tecumseh Sherman, civil war general, and Roger Sherman, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Clarence Almon Torrey, a reputable genealogist who just happens to be a relative, links us to John Calvin Coolidge (President), Robert Goddard (rocket scientist), Clara Barton (founder of the Red Cross) and Princess Diana (no explanation needed.)  Go back far enough and I guess we’re all related to the shared ancestor who decided to stand up and walk on two legs instead of four, which saved a lot of money on shoe leather.  I checked out the Lady Diana link, and we share a 12th great grandfather, and we share a 10th great grandfather with Winston Churchill.

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