(Used with the permission of the author)
Robert Jermy was an interesting and colourful member of the landed Jermy family. But his image is blurred by the mists of time. Although descended from a respected and conservative county family, he was an active Parliamentarian during the Civil War and the Protectorate. His Parliamentarian activities were in direct contrast to those of the senior branch his family at Metfield, Suffolk, where Thomas Jermy contributed £20 to a sum for the King raised in the Mendham area.
Few, if any, of his personal papers remain, doubtless because they were suppressed by his descendants. He must therefore be assessed from the few accounts in the official records and the lurid comments on his detractors, given in forgotten State documents.
Robert Jermy of Bayfield was born in 1600, the son of John Jermy of Norwich. He was educated at Christ's College, Cambridge, and the Middle Temple; his father was Master of the Bench there, as well as Chancellor of Norwich. He was called for the Bar in 1629. Francis Jermy, one of Robert's Brothers, also espoused the Parliament cause, and may have influenced Robert to do so. It has been noted that the Parliamentarians were strongest in the prosperous East Anglia and Kent, where the growth of wealth made gentry and lawyers conscious of their claim to a larger share in political power.
Between 1642 and 1649, Francis Jermy was a member of a number of committees for levying money for the army and the Commonwealth, and for sequestering delinquent's estates, and between 1643 and 1659 Robert sat on the same committees, and on various Commissions, including that for the security of the Lord Protector, and the Commission and High Court of Justice in the Eastern Counties.
The name of John Toll of (Kings) Lynn appears on one of these bodies, and subsequently Thomas Toll of Lynn (who later became Robert's son-in-law, marrying his daughter Eleanor) on most of them. Thomas Toll, progressively designated "master", "esquire", "Recorder", and "Alderman" of Lynn, was a Member of Parliament, supporting the Parliamentary cause, in the 1640's.
On 27 July 1648 Major (sic) Robert Jermy (sic) was commended by the Committee of both Houses for his "very great readiness with his troops to take care for the safety of Yarmouth against any attempts of the revolted ships". His presence was said to have discouraged any attempts by the ships, and also to have prevented any disaffected persons in the town from declaring themselves.
In 1650 and 1651 Captain Robert Jermy was a signatory of orders of the Committee for Sequestrations of the estates of Notorious Delinquents in ...... Norfolk. In 1650 the Covenanter Army was defeated at Dunbar, and Royalist hopes throughout the kingdom were revived. Towards the end of the year, the premature "Winter Rising" took place in Norfolk. In an atmosphere of bewilderment and unrest the people were deprived of their lawfully elected government. The judicial murder of King Charles I had caused horror and dismay, even among some Puritans. People complained of the heavy burden of taxation, and looked back to happier days under the monarchy.
Details of the Rising are few. Those concerned were mainly tradesmen, husbandmen and artisans; the Royalist gentry, outnumbered by their puritan neighbours, and crippled by sequestrations and fines, played no open part. Smith, alias Kitchingman, was the leading conspirator. A rendezvous was arranged one night at Easton Heath, whence the Royalists would march on Norwich, where the supporters would open the gates. But the assembly was smaller than expected, and the authorities at Norwich knew the plans. The Rising ended without the use of arms or shedding of blood. The Commonwealth authorities, however, who had anticipated trouble in Norfolk, made much of this incident. The Royalists were hunted and imprisoned. Smith (Kitchingman) was found to be a Fifth Columnist; he had alerted Norwich to the threat, and gave evidence against many of the Royalists. It was decided to punish the conspirators in a way to strike terror through the land.
Colonel Jermy was prominent in organising these measures. On 4th December 1650 he and others wrote to William Lenthall, the Speaker, referring to "insurrection ... the whole county seemed in a flame," and "the business ... considerable." They recommended a suspension of trial by jury, and the setting up of courts martial, or trial by the High Court. In fact a special High Court of Justice was appointed, which was (according to a Royalist source) "by the predominant power of the Rump of the Parliament erected on purpose for the butchering of these persons." This special Court, of which Robert Jermy was a member, met, with much ceremony, at Norwich on 20th December. Within the week (including Christmas Day) it had sentenced twenty Royalists to death; later two more were executed at Norwich; two each at Kings Lynn, Dereham Market, and Swaffham; and one each at Thetford, Holt, Fakenham and Walsingham.
Jermy, and the higher authorities, were disappointed that few "of power and eminency" had taken part in the Rising. But the Puritans secured "one black coat" (a minister) and "one red coat" (a gentleman) to suffer with the rest; the Rev. Thomas Cooper, schoolmaster at Holt, and William Hobart. Both, being connected with Holt would have been known personally to Jermy, and doubtless his zeal sealed both their fates. Cooper had been appointed Rector of Little Barningham in 1631, and presumably lost the living because of his political views. In 1634 he was an usher at Gresham's School, Holt, and seems to have held this post until his death. He was tried on Christmas Day; apparently young Hobart testified against him on promise of leniency. Cooper was convicted and executed, it is thought outside his own school door.
Hobart gained nothing. His father, James Hobart, Lord of the manor of Holt, and his sons were staunch Royalists, while the more senior and powerful Hobarts of Blickling and Intwood were Parliamentarians. The Hobart family made great efforts to obtain a reprieve for William. Eventually, by a vote of the Court, and a majority of one, it was decided that William Hobart should be sentenced. It is said that Matthew Lindsay, Mayor of Norwich and an associate Judge, voted the wrong way because of the complexity of the question put. The presiding judge would not accept his revised vote, and so William Hobart was executed at East Dereham and buried at Holt on 4th January 1651. Matthew Lindsay was so saddened by his mistake that he feel sick and died within the month.
Edmund Hobart, William's brother, evaded the search and fled to London, where he lived in disguise in a shoemaker's house. When the storm died down he surrendered, and, after paying a heavy fine and taking the Oath of Loyalty to the Commonwealth, he was discharged, and continued to work as a shoemaker. There is a tradition that, at the Restoration, he brought his protector to Holt and maintained him there for the rest of his life.
In 1653 Robert Jermy sat, with four others from Norfolk, in the "Little Parliament" of the Commonwealth, "but not as a representative of city or borough." In 1650 the Army Council had only accepted three of the Norfolk nominations, and had added the names of William Burton of Yarmouth and Robert Jermy. Jermy's record of support for the Parliamentarians and the fact that he had served under General Harrison doubtless weighed heavily in his election. This was commonly known as the "Barbone" or " Barebones" Parliament, from Mr Praise Barbon, a prominent member. Also in 1653, Robert Jermy was one of the persons in Norfolk to whom Cromwell delegated the supreme authority of the realm.
In June 1656 the militia was established in Norfolk, Colonel Robert Jermy being its Captain. In January 1659 Jermy was involved in a disputed election at Castle Rising. Two returns were made, one by the mayor of Guibon Goddard and John Fielder; and one by the parson, John Calvert (who had ministered at Letheringsett under Jermy's patronage), and several burgesses for Goddard and Jermy. In April the whole election was declared void, and a new writ was ordered to be issued. Jermy was eventually admitted Member of the burgh in 1616. On 8th March 1658/9 the Council of State issued a pass for Colonel Robert Jermyn (sic) of Norfolk, to travel beyond the seas. A similar pass was apparently issued for Major Thomas Toll of Lynn, now Jermy's son-in-law, for Jermy and Toll later visited New England.
On 28th December 1659 Robert Jermy, perhaps sensing the course that affairs were taking after Cromwell's death, wrote again to William Lenthall, restored to the office of Speaker. Jermy said that he had received information that "the old enemy" was plotting to disturb the peace of Norfolk, and he had appeared with his troop, declaring, wherever he went, that he was "up" for the purpose of preserving the peace of the county and country. He ended by declaring himself ready to obey Lenthall's commands to the uttermost.
Soon after Robert Jermy's departure to America, a "loyal song" was composed against him, entitled A display of the Headpiece and Codpiece: Valour of the most renowned Colonel Robert Jermy, late of Bayfield...; or the lively description of a dead hearted fellow. Scurrilous and scatological, it attacks the Colonel for being "the Baby of Mars", "a Journeyman soldier", "a pitiful soldier", "a cruel man", "a rascal" and "a coward" and having "fled" to New England. It refers to his causing a "Church champion" (Cooper) to be tried and murdered, corrupting twenty five burgers of Castle Rising to vote for him at the parliamentary election, taking Norwich when the gates were open, and "baudery" with a widow Mrs Katherine Foxe.
In or about 1660 John Armiger, gent., issued a proclamation, addressed to the Lords Keepers of the Great Seal, entitled A Hypocrite unmasked:, concerning Colonel Jermye (sic), dealing with matters proved to a jury at Guildford on the 21st June 1656:
1) that John Stileman and others forcibly entered the ship The Tryal of Wales, having been assured by Jermye of light sentences if caught, and robbed a house. Jermye refused to issue a warrant, but this was done by Mr Ward, another JP. At the sessions, Jermye allowed the rioters to be discharged after paying the bare fees,
2) One Seele having had a warrant issued against him for buggery, by Mr Cook, and his successor having issued a further warrant, Jermy attempted to recall the warrants but did not succeed. He then advised Seele to flee the country (ie. county) until after the next Assizes,
3) Stileman was accused of robbing Robert Hastings. Jermye remanded him in charge, but later released him,
4) Jermye compelled Dr Witherly to allow £16 annually to Mrs Katherine Foxe and to let her take wood from his land. Jermye then met Mrs Foxe and attempted her virtue. When she refused, Jermye issued violent prosecutions, so that she was forced to flee the country (county).
5) Jermye prepared a petition to the commissioners for indemnity in the name of Stileman and others. They said it was false, and the Commissioners agreed,
6) Jermye commenced an action against Mr Armiger for saying "You sit upon the Bench as a Justice of the Peace to maintain roguery and villainy ... ". Before the Lord Chief Justice, Armiger pleaded justification, and the jury found for him.
On the 14th July 1660 Armiger placed a petition before the House of Lords for wrongs by "Colonel Robert Jermy, a JP, a Commissioner for the Militis and Excise, and a member of the High Court." Jermy had taken action against Armiger for words spoken, but the petitioner had pleaded justification, and the jury had found for him. Jermy then, on a pretended charge, had Armiger imprisoned in the Tower. When the petitioner obtained habeas corpus, he was sent as a prisoner to Dover Castle, and could not obtain discharge unless he would give a general release to Jermy, which he refused. He was then sent to Jamaica as a slave, but escaped. During the continuation of the late powers, Armiger did not dare to commence an action to cover relief.
By 1661 Robert Jermy had returned from leave of absence and taken up his Lordship of the manor of Bayfield, for he presents to the livings Bayfield, Calthorpe and Letheringsett during that year. In 1663, by command of Charles II, a letter was written giving instructions for conferment of the dignity of Baronet on Robert Jermy. This was accompanied by a certificate that he was "of ancient extraction and possessed of a very good estate", signed by Francis Jermy and three others. This baronetcy Bill was never presented for signature.
In his will dated 4th April 1677 Jermy made provision for his children Robert, Isaac, Alice and Christian, and his four grandchildren, children of Eleanor Toll. His wife Christian, his son John, and his daughters Elisabeth and Bridget were not mentioned. His wife may have pre-deceased him. He is known to have been estranged from his son John (the Rev. John Jermy MA, 1629 - 1679) because of his anti-Commonwealth views. The same may have applied to Elisabeth and Bridget or because he did not approve of their marriages; or they may have been omitted simply because they were in good circumstances.
How then, do we assess Robert Jermy? From early manhood he found himself in a position of wealth and privilege. He was ambitious, and felt that to side with the Parliamentarians should bring him professional and personal advancement. This he achieved to a substantial degree, becoming a Colonel in Cromwell's army, an MP and a Commissioner for many Parliamentary causes. Unfortunately he used his position unwisely, some of his actions being indiscreet and others even more questionable. But for this, he could have obtained further advancement. He had friends in high places, for he was able to secure leave to travel to New England. This he did at a time when he anticipated that publicity could be given to his attempt to manipulate the poll at Castle Rising in his own favour, and to other misdeeds mentioned in the "loyal song" and the proclamation by John Armiger. After the restoration he felt that it was safe to return to his manor, and he finished his life quietly as lord of Bayfield. But even by 1663 he was able to persuade somebody close to the Crown to recommend him for a baronetcy; another official, however, no doubt mindful of the more dubious parts of his record, successfully blocked this attempt.
Jermy, K.E. 1993. Colonel Robert Jermy, M.P. Norfolk Ancestor. v6. pt 10. pp328-334.
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