All work and no play makes Jack and dull boy.

Sir John Reresby (1634-1689), the South Yorkshire Scrapper!

Nave and chancel featuring the Reresby mounments at St. Leonard's, ThryberghThis January, I finally managed to get inside St Leonard’s Church at Thrybergh to take some photographs of the inside of the building and of some of the quite grand memorials and monuments that can be found in there. Most of these memorials are linked with the names of families from the local area throughout the long history of the place and include the Fullertons and Reresby.

The Reresby family came by the estate at Thrybergh in 1316 when it passed from it’s previous owners, the Normanvilles. They – the Reresby’s – held it in an unbroken line for around the next four hundred years, with Sir John Reresby (1611 – 1646) becoming the first Baronet of Thribergh in 16421.

However, it’s not that Sir John Reresby that this blog piece concerns itself but his son, who became the second Baronet in 1634 on his father’s death.

The younger Sir John Reresby is quite the character in history – a Minister of the Government, Royalist Cavalry Leader, a Burgess and a Magistrate of York. On the eve of the Civil War the family’s estate was extensively valued, bringing in some £1,228 a year despite the extravagance and inefficiency of his father. Sir John the elder remained pretty much out of the machinations of the impending Civil War and his timely death in 1646 saved him from making things any worse politically for financially. By this time, the younger Reresby  found his income from the estate reduced by debts and heavy annuities to a mere £355 a year. Nevertheless he was able to travel extensively during the Interregnum, a wise move for a committed Royalist, acquiring fluency in Italian and French. Despite his travels he modestly claimed for himself ‘no extraordinary parts’ and admitted to being ‘a very mean figure or person’ as his memoirs, published in 1734, detail.

“[I was] too apt to take notice of any carriage or word that looked like a disrespect … I have found that the best way to prevent [disputes] for the future is not to seem too backward in seeking reparation.”2

Paul Kirchner has a wonderfully detailed history of Sir John’s truculence in this article at the Arma website. One such incident, drawn from Sir John’s memoirs, tells of a time in Paris where he suspected a passer by of stealing a buckle from his livery.

This gave me presently suspicion that it was the man gone just before, though his appearance and dress (for he had a sword and a good cloake) spoake him noe man to doe such an action. However, I thought the best way to succeed was to be bold, soe overtakeing him I drew my sword and bid him restoor my buccle which he had cutt off, which without any denyall he produced and restoored, begging that I would not expose him to publique shame, but lett him goe. After some stripes with the flatt of my sword I lett the rascall run his way, and the rabble shouting after him.2

Even on returning to England he was drawn to trouble. In September 1660, while he was travelling to York, his party began quarrelling with another at a ferry landing. A melee broke out.

I was struck over the head with a cudgill, which provouked me to wound one or two with my sword. This gave soe great an alarme to the country people ther met togather upon the occasion of the markit that I was encompassed [surrounded], and two gentlemen with me and our servants, and after a long defence pulled off my hors, and had certainly been knocked on the head had I not been rescued by my Moor, who gott hould of the man’s arm that had me down, as he was going to give the blowe. Being gott up again, I defended myself till I gott into the hous of an honest man, that gave us protection till the rabble was appeased.2

After the Restoration he returned with a letter of recommendation from the Queen Mother (whose court he had attended in Paris) and was presented to the King at Whitehall. He then settled into restoring his estates and finances, so much so that he was eventually able to reject a wealthy heiress and marry for love. His spirit of independence – and arguably bloody mindedness – is further shown by his resolute adherence to the Church of England, much to the annoyance of his grandmother, a staunch and bigoted Roman Catholic!

Standing for Parliament for Aldborough in 1673, he remained closely involved in political life until his death in 1689. By that time his star had waned somewhat. He refused to be drawn into the machinations of the Glorious Revolution, standing by James II even though his own religion clashed with that of the King’s. 

I was for a Parliament and the Protestant religion as well as they, but I was also for the King.2

Placed under house arrest for a short while, he did allow himself to be presented to King William in February 1689 before he died of a short illness on May 12 that year.

Sir John rests in the vault beneath St Leonard’s Church but within the church itself there is a splendid monument, erected by his family in his honour, one that cannot help but draw your attention you as your enter St Leonard’s Church from the south door. Set high on the north wall, the monument is black marble, surrounded by a white marble facade, which features some striking carving and imagery.  The family crest sits atop the memorial made up in the usual heraldic manner but with one or two unusual touches, about which I will write more later this week.

The monument reads

Here are placed the remains of the renowned John Reresby, Baron, pride and glory of his famous and ancient line, who under their Majesties Charles II and James II, to whom he had been most loyal, performed function both civil, via Justice of the Peace of the County, Burgess in Parliament for York City, and military, viz: Vice Commander of a Squadron of infantry, Cavalry and Musketry; Governor of the City of York and Bridlington, , Colonel of Militia under Henry, Duke of Newcastle. Died 12 May 1689. To whose memory his splendid wife Frances (who bore him five sons and four daughters) in her will left the erection of this monument and next to whom she is buried. Died 11 May 1699.

Unfortunately for Sir John, his life’s efforts to restore the finances and good housekeeping on his estates was undone by his heir and eldest son, Sir William Reresby who squandered it away in a life of profligacy and died a penniless tapster (essentially a barman) in Fleet Prison. There some disagreement in the various sources about whether he sold the estate or lost it in a bet but either way it came into the possession of John Savile of Methley in 1705.

The Baronetcy itself passed from William, the eldest son, to Leonard, the youngest, who was the only surviving member of the family by 17353.  He died unmarried and without issue and the baronetcy became extinct.

1 – This link on WikiTree has Sir Thomas Reresby (abt. 1564 – 1619) as the first Baron but it is incorrect. The Baronetcy was created on May 16, 1642 (source here) for Thomas’ grandson, John, who was born in 1611. The confusion probably stems from Thomas’s knighthood, which confers upon him the title of “Sir” but is a lesser title than that created for his grandson 23 years after his death.

2 –  Reresby, Sir John. The Memoirs of Sir John Reresby. (Andrew Browning, ed.) Glasgow: Jackson, Son & Co., 1936.

3 – Sir John’s other sons were Tamworth, John and George. Tamworth served in the army and while there is records of him living in 1723 the baronetcy doesn’t pass to him in 1735 so he must be deceased by then.  Both other sons died in childhood, John in 1683 aged 8 and George just a month before his father in 1689, aged 11.



  1. Jay

    Hi, one little correction about the year the Reresby’s inherited Thryberg. Ralph Reresby was knighted by accolade at Woodstock palace in 1256. He was awarded the manor of Thryberg by Henry III. Ralph actually married Margaret Normanville the same year. It’s believed he accompanied Edward I on the 9th Crusade in 1270 and never returned. His son Robert inherited the title on turning 21 in 1278.
    1316 appears to be the date Ralph’s widow, Margaret passed away and her younger son, Adam inherited the Reresby estate in Ashover, Derbyshire. Adam also inherited Thryberg in 1322 after Ralph’s grandson, another Ralph, died of wounds received at the Battle of Boroughbridge. It’s believed the Reresby family legend of St Leonard, that Sir John relates in his memoirs, is a garbled folklore memory of the two Ralphs.


    • kubrickslenscap

      Many thanks for this contribution! My apologies for taking so long to approve your comment – would love to know your sources too so I can extend my reading on the subject.

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