Mary Shireburne, 8th Duchess of Norfolk (1692-1754)

Maria Winifreda Francisca - usually known as Mary - was the last of the Shireburnes.  Daughter of Sir Nicholas Shireburne (c1658-1717) and his wife, Catherine, née Charlton (d.1727/8), Mary was born in 1692.  From surviving letters, we know she was a tall girl and what we would now call feisty; she enjoyed riding and trying to shoot the deer in the park.  Although educated at home, she did have visiting tutors; in 1707 a London dancing master, Anthony Goozens, stayed at Stonyhurst for three months and again the following year for six weeks.

Mary's siblings - Isabel and Richard - died in childhood and so she became the heiress to the Stonyhurst estate. In May 1709 Mary married Thomas, 8th Duke of Norfolk.  This was a notable occasion for her family, as the Dukes of Norfolk were, and continue to be, a prominent Catholic family. Therefore the wedding was marked by expensive celebrations. Although always retaining a fondness for her childhood home, she rarely visited Stonyhurst after this date. The Dike and Duchess resided mainly at their home in St. James, London and the Norfolk country estate Worksop Manor.


When her father died in 1717  Mary inherited the whole estate.   This did not please her husband, the Duke; Mary was a 'hands on' landlord,  in regular contact with the steward at Stonyhurst, who attended her in London and at Worksop. By 1729 the steward at Stonyhurst was receiving letters from the Duke, the Duchess and Peregrine Widdrington, a distant cousin (related through Mary's mother, Catherine) and son of the Widdringtons. From 1731 the steward's accounts indicate Peregrine acted as agent for the Duchess in the business matters connected with her Stonyhurst estate, she making only one four-month visit there  in 1734, accompanied by Peregrine. 


Mary was left a widow when the Duke died in 1732 after a childless marriage. By then relations between them had deteriorated, principally because he had “truckled with the usurper” by accepting William of Orange as King.  In 1733, there is speculation that she may have married Peregrine Widdrington.  

Mary died in 1754, probably in Tunbridge Wells. There is no memorial to her in the Shireburne chapel.  The inscriptions on the monuments to Peregrine and her parents indicate that they were 'set up' by the Duchess; the latter also adds that she wished to be interred in the same vault 'as the best of fathers and mothers'.  Thus her coffin was brought to Mitton and is placed in this chapel vault with her parents and brother and beside Peregrine’s. The memorial to Peregrine (who died in 1748) demonstrates Mary's deep affection for him and her commitment to the Jacobite cause.


On her death, the whole Stonyhurst estate was left to her Weld cousin, the descendant of her aunt Elizabeth Shireburne, daughter of the fourth Richard. 

Elizabeth's descendant, Thomas Weld (c1750-1810) of Lulworth castle, Dorset, inherited the whole Weld family estates in 1775, including Stonyhurst. As Stonyhurst was far detached from the rest of the families possessions, Thomas offered it to the Jesuit School founded at St Omer in 1593, which he had attended as a boy. The same school had been were Thomas's ancestor, the fourth Richard Shireburne, had fled to for refuge in 1679. 

During the 18th century the school had migrated first to Bruges and then to Liege. The Revolution and the French Invasion of the Austrian Netherlands (present day Belgium) in 1794 led to the school move to England when Thomas offered them Stonyhurst. which had been derelict and unoccupied since 1754.


In 1810, whilst attending a celebratory dinner at Stonyhurst, Thomas Weld collapsed and died a few hours later.