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About John Somerville
SOMERVILLE or SOMERVILE, JOHN (1560–1583), condemned for treason against the life of Queen Elizabeth, was the head of an ancient catholic family possessing lands in Warwickshire and Gloucestershire, and having their chief seat at Edstone in the former county. He was eldest son of John Somervile of Edstone, by Elizabeth, daughter of William Corbett, of Lee, Shropshire. He was born in 1560, and educated at Hart Hall, Oxford, then much resorted to by Roman catholics. He married Margaret, daughter of Edward Arden [q. v.] of Park-hall, who, like himself, was an adherent of the ancient faith. In midsummer 1583 he became ‘affected with a frantic humour,’ thinking himself called on to free his religion from persecution, and saying that he ‘must die for the commonwealth.’ On 24 Oct. he was heard to declare that he would go to the court and shoot the queen with his dag. The following day he set out from Edstone for London, making little secret of his purpose, and assaulting with his drawn sword some persons whom he met on the way. Being apprehended, he admitted that he meant to kill the queen, and implicated Edward Arden, the latter's wife, his own wife, and Hugh Hall, a priest, who lived in Arden's house in the disguise of a gardener. With them he was arraigned at Guildhall on 16 Dec. 1583. He pleaded guilty; his companions, who pleaded not guilty, were convicted by verdict of the assize. All were sentenced to death. Hall and the women were pardoned, the priest apparently in order that his evidence might be used in other cases. On 19 Dec. the lieutenant of the Tower delivered up Somerville and Arden for execution. They were brought in the same litter to Newgate and shut up separately. Within two hours afterwards Somervile was found strangled in his cell. His head was cut off, and, with that of Arden, who was executed next day, was set up on London Bridge; his body was buried in the Moorfields, near the Windmills. He left two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret or Alice; both married, and Elizabeth had issue. In 1605, when wife of Thomas Warwick, organist of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal, she petitioned for some portion of her father's land to pay her debts and enable her to subsist like a gentlewoman. Sir Philip Warwick [q. v.] was her son. Somerville's younger brother, Sir William (d. 1616), who was knighted on 23 July 1603, obtained the lands of Edstone and Aston-Somerville, but the small estate of Widenhay in Warwickshire passed out of the family by attainder. He was, more probably than his son Sir William Somervile (d. 1628), who was knighted on 6 Sept. 1617, the first owner of the portrait of Shakespeare attributed to Hilliard, sometimes called the Somervile miniature. From him William Somerville [q. v.] the poet was fourth in descent.
[Visitation of Warwickshire, 1619; Dugdale's Warwickshire; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Camden's Annals; Stow's Chronicle; State Papers, Dom.; Deputy-keeper of Public Records, 4th Rep. App. ii. p. 272; Metcalfe's Book of Knights, pp. 146, 172; Mrs. Stopes's Shakespeare's Warwickshire Contemporaries; Wivell's Shakespeare Portraits.]
Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 53, Somerville, John (1560-1583), by George William Campbell.