Whilst the small town of Sheffield was of little national significance in the sixteenth century the same could not be said of its lord, for George Talbot, the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, and the third to take an active personal interest in local affairs, was one of the wealthiest and most influential nobles at the court of Queen Elizabeth.
It was in the second year of her reign, in 1560, that he had succeeded his father, Earl Francis, to the title and with it had inherited vast estates in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Shropshire, properties in London and at least six counties, castles in Sheffield Tutbury and Pontefract and a house beside the wells in Buxton. The 5th Earl had given valuable service to the state in being instrumental in putting down the northern revolt known as the Pilgrimage of Grace and so George Talbot was well trusted by the Queen from the start. She admitted him to the Privy Council and conferred on him the position of Lieutenant General for Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
In 1572, following the execution of the Duke of Norfolk, she created him Earl Marshal of England. The trusting, somewhat affectionate relationship which George valued with the Queen can be inferred from the way that she referred to him as ‘My Goode Old Manne’, despite the fact that he was only a few years her senior. The nickname also suggests a joking relationship, implying that he was somewhat set in his ways.
There is evidence to suggest that despite his wealth and influence he was not terribly astute and was of a fretful disposition. Portraits of George as an aging man still hang on the wall of the long gallery at Hardwick Hall, the house built by his wife after his death. The drawn features are care-worn and serious to the point of being dour and gloomy. A fierce sense of pride in maintaining his personal and family honour underlay his course of action but in his personal dealings and in his national responsibilities there is little evidence of a sense of humour. Maybe these qualities were the very ones that made him such a trustworthy servant of the crown in these dangerous times. In George Talbot the Queen recognised one of the few man in the country on whom she could rely utterly but in a world which included such contemporaries as Shakespeare, Raleigh and Leicester he was never likely to gain a reputation as a wit or intellectual.
In 1556 his wife, Gertrude Manners of Haddon, died, leaving George with the care of their seven children, four boys and three girls. The eldest, Francis, then 16, was to die young leaving his second son, Gilbert, to inherit the title after his father’s death in 1590, to be succeeded by the younger son, Edward, who would for a brief period be the 8th and last Talbot to hold the title until 1618.