Snakes Of The Derwent Valley
According to local folklore, before 1715 there were no venomous snakes in the Derwent Valley, but after the execution of the Earl of Derwentwater an abundance of adders started to appear along the length of the river Derwent.
James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater inherited his title when his father died in 1705. Earl Derwentwater, was a strong supporter of his cousin James Francis Edward Stuart the ‘Old Pretender’ and was the leader of the Northumbrian Jacobites in the 1715 Rebellion.
He was captured after their defeat at the Battle of Preston and after being found guilty of treason he was beheaded at Tower Hill on 24 February 1716. The Earl’s brother Charles managed to escape, but Thomas Forster – The Earl’s cousin – who was also one of the battle’s commanders was also captured, but was sprung from gaol by his sister who subsequently hid him in a priest hole at the Lord Crewe Arms Hotel before smuggling him to Europe.
I assume that snakes and the tales that grew up around them are connected more to an act of High Treason than to the Earl himself and the story probably propagated as a warning of the evils of such an act.
Note: James Radclyffe’s mother was Lady Mary Tudor, the daughter of King Charles II and the actress Moll Davis.