At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086 the Lydiard estate belonged to Alfred of Marlborough but by the 14th century it was owned by the Beauchamp family. It was Margaret Beauchamp who brought not only wealth but power, prestige and a royal ancestry to the St. John family.
Margaret, born in c 1409 and John Beauchamp, born a year later, were the children of Sir John Beauchamp and his second wife Edith Stourton. Their father died when both children were very young. Along with the Beauchamp property and lands, the young brother and sister became wards of their uncles William and George Stourton, their mother’s two brothers.
Following her brother John’s death in 1420/1, eleven year old Margaret became the sole heir to her father’s considerable estate.
Margaret married Sir Oliver St John the son of John St John and Elizabeth Paullet in about 1425 and the couple had seven children, daughters Edith, Elizabeth, Mary, Margaret and Agnes, and two sons, John and Oliver.
Sir Oliver died in France in 1437/8, probably during fighting following the execution of Joan of Arc when the English were driven out of the country. He was buried at the Church of St. Jacques des Jacobins in Rouen, Normandy.
It is presumed that Margaret and her children lived at the Bedfordshire estate in Bletsoe Castle following her husband’s death. During this period the manor house at Lydiard would have been considerably smaller than the remodelled 18th century Palladian mansion house that survives today. Dominated by a Tudor hall and court yard the H shaped house contained the kitchens and services in the west wing and opposite the hall the family rooms in the solar wing.
John Beaufort was descended from an illegitimate son of John of Gaunt but sadly his financial situation did not match up to his Royal pedigree.
Captured by the French during fighting in 1421, John was held prisoner for a record breaking seventeen years. He only secured his release by paying a ransom equal to most of his inheritance.
Impoverished and with a weakened constitution, John was on the lookout for a wealthy bride and in 1442 the widowed Margaret Beauchamp, Lady St John filled the position nicely.
A year later he returned to France with the intention of recouping his lost fortune by imposing illegal taxes on the French. His plans went very wrong and he returned to England in disgrace. He retired to his estate in Wimborne where it was believed he chose to fall on his sword. He died on May 27, 1444.
Margaret’s second marriage was a short one but produced a daughter Margaret Beaufort, who would become one of the most influential and powerful women of the 15th century.
Henry VI granted the wardship of the infant Lady Margaret Beaufort to William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk and steward of the royal household. The child continued to live with her mother at Bletsoe until at the age of just twelve she was married to Edmund Tudor, Henry VI’s half brother. A year later she became the mother of the future King Henry VII founder of the Tudor dynasty.
Evidence suggests that Margaret Beauchamp was a strong willed and astute woman, carefully preserving and overseeing her considerable legacy. Following the death of her second husband she received a grant for life of £166 13s 4d annually and manors in Somerset, Essex, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Dorset and Devon, acquired during her husband’s lifetime, were transferred to her by royal licence. In 1445 and 1458 conveyances were made of Beauchamp held manors at Lydiard and Bletsoe and secured for Margaret’s two sons by Oliver St. John. Her elder son Sir John St John headed the senior branch of the family at Bletsoe while second son Oliver inherited the manor of Lydiard in Wiltshire.
On April 14, 1447 Margaret married Lancastrian Lionel, 6th Lord Welles by whom she had two children, John and Cecily. Her third husband was killed during the Yorkist victory at the Battle of Towton in March 1461.
Margaret died in the summer of 1482 aged 72 years. She was buried in Wimborne Minster beside her second husband John Beaufort.
There are few surviving likenesses of Margaret Beauchamp. Probably the best known is the portrait on the pediment of the St. John polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze. She is also depicted in marble on the magnificent Beaufort memorial in Wimborne Minster.
Images – Portrait of Margaret Beauchamp on the St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church, courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball – see more photos of the St John memorials on www.oodwocc.co.uk