It may come somewhat a surprise to learn that a Bunbury, Cheshire man was one of the foremost English sailors who fought with Drake, Frobisher and Hawkins against the Spanish Armada. His name was George Beeston, lord of the manor of Beeston, a descendent of Henry de Hunbury who took the name Beeston from the place of his residence. For his part in the battle against the Armada George Beeston was knighted on board the Ark, at sea, by the Lord High Admiral, Lord Howard of Effingham together with Frobisher, Hawkins and others. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 has been described as one of the most decisive battles in the world. It was a running battle lasting some nine days and marked the start of the downfall of Spain and the ascendancy of England as a great maritime power. Even though the Armada story is remarkable, even more remarkable is that Sir George Beeston's was reputed to be 89 years old at that time.
George Beeston was also a soldier and his active career is told largely on his memorial tomb situated on the north side of the sanctuary in Bunbury Church. A translation of the Latin epitaph is given by Rylands and Beazley in The Monuments of Bunbury Church, (1918), as follows:
Under the semi-circular tomb arch and above Sir George Beeston's effigy in armour a further inscription, when translated, reads:
Sir George Beeston's tomb shows a representation of a Tudor ship that has many similarities to the Mary Rose of Henry VIII's reign, a vessel raised from the seabed within the last few years. A little is known about Sir George Beeston's ship, the Dreadnought, which was built in 1573. Her displacement was 400 tons, she carried 41 guns and her crew consisted of 130 mariners, 50 soldiers and 20 gunners.
Tantalizingly there are spaces on the epitaph for the ages of Sir George and Lady Alice which have been "filled‑in" by eminent historians without quoting their information sources. There is some confusion, therefore, about Sir George Beeston's actual age when he was buried, at Bunbury, on 13 October 1601. Thomas Dingley, a visiting antiquary about 1684, attributed ages of 99 and 86 to Sir George and Lady Alice respectively on the dates of their burials. George Ormerod in The History of Cheshire states unequivocally, their ages as 102 and 86 respectively, and these ages have been quoted, almost without exception, ever since. Consequently, it must be concluded that George Ormerod, Cheshire's must eminent historian, did not examine Sir George Beeston's tomb.
A more recent author, however, J.C.Henderson, writing in 1981, on the History of Parliament, states that George Beeston was a pensioner between 1547 to at least 1589, Ranger of Delamere Forest in 1562, M.P. for Cheshire in 1589, and according to his father's inquisition post mortem he was 22 in 1542, thus implying Sir George was born c.1520. Clearly Henderson's dates are not incompatible with the career facts stated on the epitaph, but there is some difficulty reconciling Sir George's first marriage to Alice Davenport of Henbury. As stated unambiguously on their epitaph Sir George and Lady Alice Beeston had been married for 66 years in 1591.
Accordingly, if Henderson is to believed, it would mean that Sir George was married in 1525 when he was about 5 years old. If the age of Lady Alice, quoted by both Dingley and Ormerod, is correct, then Alice Davenport was 19 years old on her wedding day and would have resulted in a most unlikely "child plus adult marriage" - not impossible but improbable. If, however, both Dingley and Ormerod were altogether incorrect about their ages and a "child plus child" marriage took place then Henderson's contention gains some support by the birth of Sir George's second son, Hugh Beeston, reputedly born c.1545 when Lady Alice could have been in her twenties, rather than in her forties as implied by both Dingley and Ormerod. In the sixteenth‑century child‑marriages were not that uncommon and were performed for political and acquisitive reasons, and also because of short life-expectancies. Such an event took place in Bunbury on 25 June 1552, when John Dutton, aged 12 years or thereabouts, was child-married to Eleanor Calveley, daughter of Sir Hugh Calveley - "since which marriage, we two have for the much part cohabited together and used and taken each other as man and wife."
The mystery of Sir George Beeston's age must, therefore, remain a mystery.
As we learn from the larger monumental inscription Sir George had three sons and three daughters by his wife Alice. Lady Alice Beeston was the daughter of Thomas Davenport of Henbury, Esq., and married George Beeston in 1525. She died aged 86, and was buried in Bunbury on 9th April 1591. Lady Alice, therefore, enjoyed her title for about three years. Sir George married a second time to Margaret?, daughter of George Ireland from the Hutte of co. Lancaster. [On the present-day Ford site, Halewood.] A third marriage was to Mary, daughter of James Chittwood (Chetwode) of Walcherton, the widow of ? Dorrington of Stafford.
Sir George Beeston did not reside at Beeston Castle which belonged to the Crown, but at the ancestral home of Beeston Hall. Little, if any, of the Beeston Hall known to Sir George now survives. It was moated, and was almost destroyed in the Civil War, being fired on by the soldiers of Prince Rupert. On 19 March 1645 the Prince dined with the lady of the house, and after dinner, told her he was sorry to make so bad a return to her hospitality and advised her to secure her valuables, as he had to order the house to be burned that night to prevent it being garrisoned by the enemy.
Dated 23 May 2000