The Parker family
The Parkers were a long established local family with an estate adjacent to the western boundary of the Forest, in the parish of Great Hallingbury. Prominent members included Sir Henry Parker, the 10th Lord Morley, his daughter Jane, Lady Rocheford, and his great grandson, Edward. The family seat was Hallingbury Place and the family owned a part of the Forest from 1592 to 1666. In 1605, Sir William Parker was linked to the Gunpowder Plot. During the Civil War, the family supported the King and suffered thereafter. Declining family fortunes forced them to sell their interest in the forest in 1666.
Sir Henry Parker, 10th Baron Morley, a Tudor courtier
Sir Henry was a prominent courtier at the court of Henry VIII. He accompanied Henry to the famous meeting of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, with the King of France, Francis 1, in 1520, near Calais. He was sketched by Albrecht Durer, in 1523, whilst travelling as an Ambassador to the Archduke of Austria.
He was a long-standing friend of Thomas Cromwell, at one time one of the most powerful figures at the court of Henry VIII, with a shared interest in Italy. He made him a gift of two of Machiavelli's best known works, a "History of Florence", and "The Prince", both in Italian.
Sir Henry was one of the 96 judges at the trial of Queen Anne Boleyn, at the Tower of London in 1537. She was found guilty of adultery and also of incest with her brother, George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, which led to her beheading (unusually, by sword). George was also tried, separately, and executed.
After this, Sir Henry retired from court, dying at the age of 80, in 1556. He is buried in Great Hallingbury Church. This also contains, in the west tower, an inscribed brass commemorating the Parker family and erected by Sir Henry.
Jane Parker, Lady Rochford, a royal Lady-in-Waiting
Jane was the daughter of Sir Henry and married George Boleyn in 1524, becoming Viscountess Rochford and, later, a lady-in-waiting to her sister-in-law, Queen Anne Boleyn. She provided testament to Anne’s adultery but survived Anne’s downfall to become a lady-in-waiting to a subsequent queen, Henry’s 4th wife, Katherine Howard. She was however later found guilty of assisting Katherine’s adultery and was beheaded at the Tower of London in 1542.
Sir Henry Parker, 11th Baron Morley, another rebel
Sir Henry was the grandson of the 10th Baron. He was implicated in the Rising of the North in 1570, an unsuccessful attempt by Catholic nobles from the Northern England to depose Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. He fled abroad and Great Hallingbury was seized by the Crown. It was however restored to Henry’s son, Edward, after his death in 1577.
Sir Edward Parker, 12th Baron Morley, a judge of Mary, Queen of Scots
Sir Edward was one of 36 noblemen who sat in judgement at the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots, at Fotheringay Castle in 1586, for treason, leading to her execution.
Hatfield Forest purchase
In 1592, Sir Edward purchased the western part of Hatfield Forest from the Rich family. This stayed in the family until 1666 when, with family fortunes declining, it was sold to Sir Edward Turnor, from nearby Little Parndon, and Speaker of the House of Commons.
Sir William Parker, 13th Baron Morley, a link to the Gunpowder Plot
Although nominally a Protestant, Sir William was connected by marriage to one of the prominent Catholic families, the Treshams. He also had the title 4th Lord Monteagle, through his mother's side.
In November 1605, he was the recipient of a famous anonymous letter warning him to stay away from the House of Commons, which he was due to attend. The letter possibly came from his brother-in-law, Franics Tresham, one of the Gunpowder plotters.
This letter was shown to Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury and the King's secretary, who in turn showed it to the King, James I. A search of the vaults below the Palace of Westminster was ordered, at which Sir William was present. This led to the discovery of Guy Fawkes hiding in the cellars with barrells of gunpowder, and the Gunpowder Plot.
Sir William was rewarded by the King with £500 and £200 in land, for his services in protecting the Crown.
Sir Henry Parker, 14th Baron Morley, tries to deforest the Forest
In 1639, at the suggestion of the King, Charles I, Sir Henry Parker set up a royal commission to try and reduce the legal status of Hatfield Forest to that of ordinary land. The commission recommended that the land be given to Sir Henry, that the commoners be compensated with land in exchange for their rights and that the Crown be compensated to forfeit their (non-existant) right to graze deer.
The Vicar of Hatfield Broad Oak led the opposition to this, an appeal was made to the Inner Star Chamber and the recommendation overturned.
A clash with Parliament and the estate is lost
The Parker family were strong supporters of the Royalist cause during the Civil War and were to pay dearly for being on the losing side. The family influence, especially within the Hatfield area was reduced.
Sir Henry Parker, 14th Baron Morley, was found to have committed treason (the fifth owner of the Forest to have done). Whilst he kept his head, his estate was confiscated by an Act of Parliament in 1649. Fortunately, the estate was not solely his, and so, after his death in 1655, Parliament returned the estate to his son Sir Thomas Parker, 15th Baron Morley. He had no male heirs, so the baronetcy fell into abeyance on his death in 1697.
The original family seat was Hallingbury Hall, adjacent to the church in Great Hallingbury (shown on the OS map as “The Hall”).
At the beginning of the 16th century, this was abandoned and the family moved to a new home, 1 km to the south east, Morley House, later Hallingbury Place (Grid Ref: TL517188). This was in the centre of Hallingbury Park, an enclosed deer park. It was of brick, possibly half-H-shaped, with wings extending south. Elizabeth I stayed there in 1561 and again in 1576. In 1653, the house had 45 rooms.