The Lady of the Tower by Elizabeth St John

The stunning St John polyptych at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Park, will be open next weekend 22 – 24 July to celebrate the 401st anniversary of its installation.

A view of the South Door at St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze, through which the funeral cortege would have entered.

A view of the South Door at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze, through which the funeral cortege would have entered.

At the centre of this multi panelled genealogical masterpiece is a family portrait. Believed to have been painted by William Larkin (portraitist at the court of James I and known as ‘The Curtain Master’ for his predilection for including draped curtains and oriental carpets in his paintings) the St John portrait pays homage to the parents of Sir John St John, 1st Baronet.

Sir John and Lady Lucy St John kneel in prayer on a sarcophagus beneath which lie three coffins representing three of their children who died before the painting of the portrait.

Their son, Sir John (1st Baronet) and his wife, Anne Leighton stand on the left of the portrait and on the right are their six daughters.

St John polyptych

St John polyptych

The 17th century St John family lived through turbulent times about which a vast amount of academic and populist historical works exist. The life of Sir John (1585-1648) is also well documented but what do we know about his six sisters?

As Brian Carne writes in the recently reprinted Curiously Painted: “Little has been discovered about the lives of the six sisters: they existed in the shadows of their husbands.”

Lucy St John was born in 1589. She married Sir Allen Apsley, Lieutenant of the Tower of London, at the church of St Ann’s, Blackfriars on October 23, 1615. Following his death she had a second, short lived marriage to Sir Leventhorpe Francke and she died in 1659 aged 70 years.

The little that is known about youngest sister Lucy, comes from the writings of her daughter Lucy Apsley.

Elizabeth St John

Elizabeth St John

Not a lot to be going on with for the historical biographer, but for the historical novelist an absolute gift! It was from this position that Elizabeth St John began writing The Lady of the Tower.

Elizabeth St John is a direct descendant of the senior Bletsoe branch of the St John family and the 13th great granddaughter of Margaret Beauchamp (Henry VII’s grandmother).

Elizabeth, who grew up in England but now lives in California, first visited Lydiard about thirty-five years ago, and has returned almost every year since.

‘I remember the first time I visited, walking through the house and seeing all the portraits. It was as if part of me had come home – perhaps it’s because I inherited the St. John nose, and there was a sense of familiarity!’

Elizabeth’s novel has been a long time in the writing and began as an article published in The Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report 1987 as The Influence of the Villiers Connection on the First Baronet and his Sisters.

‘The story stayed with me, and it’s been a lifetime dream to write a book about them.’

Elizabeth has undertaken extensive research and skilfully interweaves fact and fiction, including authentic 17th century cures and recipes borrowed from her kinswoman Lady Johanna St John’s Booke.

Elizabeth’s novel has received critical acclaim:

Few authors tackle this period, opting for the more popular eras, but Elizabeth St John has brought the early Stuart Court in the years before the English Civil War vividly to life. She weaves together the known facts of Lucy’s life with colourful scenes of fictional imagination, drawing on innocent romance and bleak deception to create a believable heroine, and an intriguing plot.

Historical Novel Society

But perhaps one of the greatest endorsements is that The Lady of the Tower is now on sale in the Tower of London bookshop.

Lady of the Tower Final ebook cover large

But if you can’t pop into the Tower, the book is available online from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle (where it is now in the Kindle Best Sellers for Historical Fiction in both the US and UK).

The Lady of the Tower leaves the story in 1630 with Lucy recently widowed and homeless. Elizabeth is currently writing a second book, which has the working title ‘By Love Divided’ and follows the story of Lucy’s two children.

‘Lucy Hutchinson and Allen Apsley, fought on opposing sides of the Civil War. This book explores their lives, and those of their extended family, through their eyes. The conflict that drove their beliefs was often blurred and confused, and throughout the wars they remained extremely close. It’s a fascinating time in our history, and one that not much is written about.’

Lady Mary St John

Lady Mary Kerr married Frederick St John in December 1788. She had just celebrated her 21st birthday and he was soon to turn 25.

Mary was a member of the Scottish aristocracy whose family seat was the medieval Newbattle Abbey at Dalkeith. Mary was the 4th child and 3rd daughter of William John Kerr, 5th Marquess of Lothian and his wife Elizabeth Fortescue.

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Elizabeth Fortescue – Lady Mary’s mother

Frederick St John was the younger of two sons born to the warring Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and Lady Diana Spencer whose marriage ended spectacularly  in divorce in 1768.

Frederick Jnr joined the army in 1779 aged 14 as an ensign in the 85th Regiment of Foot and went on to become the second most senior general in the British Army. But in 1788 he had marriage on his mind and the young Lady Mary Kerr fitted the bill nicely.

Frederick St John

Frederick St John

Mary didn’t become pregnant immediately after the wedding, perhaps Frederick’s military duties took him away from home, but by February 1791 she was due to give birth to the couples’ first child. A son, Robert William, was born on February 5; the following day Mary died. She was 23 years old.

At first it seemed that this was about all the information I would be able to garner about Mary. Her death warranted a brief mention in the Annual Register, or a View of History, Politics and Literature for the Year 1791 – Lady Mary St John, lady of the honourable major Frederick St John. In The Gentleman’s Magazine the entry is equally brief 6 [February] at her house in Park Lane, Lady Mary St John, lady of Major St J. and daughter of the Marquis of Lothian.

Horace Walpole, Whig politician and friend of Frederick’s mother Lady Di, mentioned Mary’s death in a letter to Miss Berry, and that seemed to be that.

And then a visit to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre revealed a most fascinating document filed among the household bills of Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of Pembroke.

Frederick had close family ties to the Pembroke family. Henry Herbert, the 10th Earl, was married to Lady Elizabeth Spencer, the sister of Frederick’s mother, Lady Diana Spencer. Their son and Frederick’s cousin, George Augustus Herbert, who became the 11th Earl of Pembroke, married Elizabeth Beauclerk, Frederick’s sister by his mother’s second marriage to Topham Beauclerk.

However, I certainly didn’t expect to find the following in a box of Pembroke family papers:

2057/A6/18 Account for the funeral of Lady Mary St John at Lydiard Tregoze; to be paid by Lord Herbert.

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A view of the South Door at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze, through which the funeral cortege would have entered.

In fascinating detail this document recounts the cost of Lady Mary’s funeral, from the arrangements at her London home, the long journey to Wiltshire and the short one from the Hall in Lydiard House to the church at St Mary’s just footsteps away.

According to this document Lady Mary’s body was collected from her home in North Audley Street and she was buried on February 12 in the family vault at Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire by the order of the Hon. Lord Herbert.

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Details from the funeral account – Lady Mary St John died 1791

The first items to appear on the long list are:

Superfine Crape Shroud, headress & pillow neatly pink’d £2 2s

Large Superfine Crape Sheet to wrap the Body in £1 5s

An Elm Coffin lined with Superfine Crape, Quilted lining & a thick Mattress for the Bottom of the Coffin £1 11s 6d

Other expensive items include the outer lead coffin, inscription plate and brass handles, but it is the details of the journey which are especially interesting.

Feathers [ostrich] placed on the Corps in Audley Street & carried before the Funeral to the Stonesend, placed on the Corps at the Inn on the Road & place of Interment.

Travelling costs were expensive – Two men on Horseback as Porters to attend the Funeral to the place of Interment 6 days each cost £7 4s; a Hearse & 4 Horses £2 2s 6 days cost £12 12s and a coach & 4 Horses £2 2s 6 days cost £12 12s.

Rooms at the Inns on the Road for the Corps cost 17s 6d with a further 17s 6d for two men sitting up with the Corps.

As the funeral cortege neared Lydiard Tregoze a bell was tolled at Marlborough – 6s 8d and again at Swindon 5s.

At Lydiard Tregoze 8 Bearers were employed to carry the Corps from the Hall to the place of Interment by Mr Crooks appointment £2 2s.

The last item on the funeral account is the charge of Turnpikes £1 18s 6d.

The final bill came to £98 18s 8d.

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Details from the funeral account – Lady Mary St John died 1791

Sadly so little is known about the life of Lady Mary St John, but a great deal is known about her after her death.

 

 

 

 

 

Fonmon Castle and another St John connection

The Lydiard Park estate came in to the possession of the St John family when Oliver St John married Margaret Beauchamp in about 1425. The North Wiltshire estate would remain in the family for more than 500 years, but when did the  St Johns themselves arrive in England?

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Lydiard House and Park

Originally from St.Jean-le-Thomas in Normandy the St John name appears on a charter dated 1053 witnessed by none other than William, Duke of Normandy who just thirteen years later would invade and conquer England. And there are Charters linking Thomas St. John, Sheriff of Oxford as Thomas St. John, son of Raoul and formerly of St. Jean-le-Thomas.

Some forty years later there is a record that Thomas de St John was granted land by Henry I, which led to a theory that the St Johns didn’t leave Normandy until after 1066.

These facts also dispel the myth that a St John was, supposedly, one of the twelve knights that conquered Glamorgan under fitzHamo in the late 11th century.

But by the end of the 13th century there is a definite sighting of the St Johns at Fonmon Castle, ten miles west of Cardiff.

It is believed the first castle was a timber built structure. The stone version was built in 1180 by Baron Adam de Port, Lord Basing, about the same time that he married Mabel, the daughter of Reginald de Aurevalle. Mabel was the grandchild and heir of Roger St John so both Adam and Mabel took the name St. John.

In a charter dated to before 1121, Thomas St. John of St. Jean-le-Thomas mentions his brothers John and Roger and a nephew Ralf de Port  so there must be other family relationships between the two families.

During the early to middle 13th century additions to the stone built structure included a square tower to the south and a round tower joining the main block.

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Fonmon Castle

Fonmon Castle along with lands at Bletso in Bedfordshire descended through the elder son of Oliver St John and Margaret Beauchamp until 1656 when it was sold to Colonel Phillip Jones, MP, Privy Councillor and Cromwell’s right hand man and 7x great grandfather of the present owner.

And for more than 250 years the property descended down the male line of the Jones family until Oliver Henry Jones died in 1917. Oliver had no children and the estate passed jointly to his nieces Beatrice and Clara Valpy, the daughters of his sister Edith Alicia Jones. Clara married Sir Seymour William Brooke Boothby, the grandparents of Sir Brooke Charles Boothby, 15th Bt and the present owner of Fonmon Castle.

It has been the family’s proud claim that during the castle’s 800 year history it has only been owned by two families, the St John and the Jones, but guess what – it get’s even better then that.

In 1976 Sir Brooke Charles Boothby married Georgiana Alexandra Russell, the daughter of Aliki Diplarakou (Miss Europe 1930) and her second husband Sir John Wriothesley Russell. Now does the Russell name ring any bells with you, I wonder?

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Aliki Diplarakou

Well let’s skip back a couple more generations – Sir John Wriothesley Russell’s father was Sir Thomas Wentworth Russell, Commandant of the Cairo City Police and Director of the Narcotic Intelligence Bureau; then we have Rev Henry Charles Russell, Rector at Wollaton, Northants and Lieutenant Colonel Lord Charles James Fox of the 52nd Regiment until we arrive at John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford.

Now we skip through the generations of the dukedom, back to Francis Russell, 4th Earl of Bedford, born at the end of the 16th century.

Nearly there – we have arrived at William Russell 1st Baron Russell of Thornhaugh. William was a professional soldier who gained the rank of Lieutenant General in 1585. The following year he fought in the Battle of Zutphen in the Netherlands and in 1587 became the Governor of Flushing. He was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland on May 16, 1594.

But more importantly, for readers of this blog, William was the fourth son of Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford and his wife Margaret St. John.

Margaret St John, Countess of Bedford was the daughter of Sir John St John and Margaret Waldegrave. Sir John was head of the senior branch of the family, a great grandson of Margaret Beauchamp and had been raised at court by Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry VII). Soldier and statesman Sir John entered the court of his kinsman Henry VIII.  In 1533 he served as knight of the body, was ‘custos’ (guard) to Princess Mary in 1536 and chamberlain in the household of the Princess Elizabeth.

Margaret was one of four daughters born to this couple. After her first short lived marriage to William Gostwick,  Margaret married Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford. The couple had at least seven children and the stories of Lady Anne and Lady Margaret have already featured in this Good Gentlewoman blog.

Margaret died at Woburn, the Russell family home, on August 27, 1562 from smallpox. She was buried at Chenies, Buckinghamshire where Francis later joined her in an elaborate alabaster tomb complete with coloured effigies of the couple and a lengthy inscription.

On April 6, 2014 Sir Brooke Boothby handed over the running of Fonmon Castle to his daughter Aliki Currimjee, 13x great granddaughter of Margaret St. John.

Now doesn’t that make a good story. My thanks to Sonia St John for passing it on.

Aliki Currimjee

Aliki Currimjee

Many thanks also to Suzanne St John who put me straight on a few facts and whose corrections are inserted in this blog post.

Strawberry Hill: the eccentric house that inspired the Gothic Revival

From the 1770s, Strawberry Hill became famous for ‘Works of Genius … by Persons of Rank and Gentlemen not artists’. Most of these amateur artists were women, chief among them the painter and designer Lady Diana Beauclerk the former Diana, Viscountess Bolingbroke. Read about her on https://goodgentlewoman.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/lady-diana-spencer/

Flickering Lamps

Among the smart suburban homes of Twickenham is a very strange house.  Gleaming white walls, battlements, Gothic pinnacles and a round tower stand out against more restrained neighbours. Strawberry Hill House, home of the eccentric man of letters Horace Walpole during the second half of the 18th Century, is arguably the birthplace not only of the Gothic revival, but also of the Gothic novel.   I visited Strawberry Hill on a very gloomy Saturday afternoon, which didn’t really do the house’s bright white walls justice, but the house had only reopened a few weeks earlier after an extensive restoration and despite the grey weather the house was clean and jewel-bright – and quite possibly one of the oddest homes I’ve ever visited.

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The Other Boleyn Girl’s daughter

Does this good gentlewoman, Lady Katherine Knollys, remind you of anyone? Her mother was Mary Boleyn and her father William Carey – or was he?

Lady Katherine Knollys by Steven van der Meulen

Lady Katherine Knollys by Steven van der Meulen

Mary and Anne Boleyn were the daughters of the ambitious and greedy but loyal Tudor supporter Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire & Ormond. Thomas served as Esquire of the King’s Body along with many other prestigious and lucrative appointments, combining the role of ambassador, friend and royal entertainer – perhaps he overstretched himself just a tad.

Thomas’ two daughters both famously caught the eye of the King. The rise and fall of Anne is well documented, that of Mary, until recently less so, perhaps because her exit from the Royal scene was less dramatic.

There is no denying that Henry VIII was, how shall I put it, amorous, but it may come as some surprise to know that he was also extremely discreet when it came to his love affairs. This factor makes it difficult for historians to pin down exactly the date of his affair with Mary Boleyn, which has implications for establishing whether Katherine Carey was his bastard daughter or not.

There are no authenticated portraits of Mary Boleyn. This could be her ...

There are no authenticated portraits of Mary Boleyn. This could be her …

or this could be Mary Boleyn?

or this could be Mary Boleyn?

Numerous eminent historians have taken a stab as to when Henry’s affair with Mary began and ended. One has suggested it began as early as 1515 and another that it didn’t end until 1525, but the general consensus seems to be that the affair began after Mary’s marriage to William Carey in February 1520 and lasted, most probably, between 1522 and 1524. It was also generally thought that of Mary’s two children Henry was the elder and Katherine the younger, but opinion has changed there too, mainly to the discovery of a dictionary belonging to Sir Francis Knollys, but I I’ll come to that later.

Henry was unlikely to acknowledge Mary’s children as his own for one very important reason. To confess to an affair with her sister would complicate his marriage to Anne and his divorce proceedings with Katherine under the consanguinity laws.

In her book Mary Boleyn, Alison Weir states that any evidence to Katherine Carey being Henry’s daughter is ‘circumstantial and inferential’ and that ‘positive proof is lacking,’ but when all is said and done there are some tantalizing indicators.

Katherine was born in 1524 and just a couple of months after her birth a grant was made to William Carey which has been seen by some as a reward for being not only a compliant husband but for raising a royal bastard.

After William Carey’s death in 1528, Mary and her two young children returned to the Boleyn family home at Hever Castle. In December of that same year Henry assigned Mary an annuity of £100 worth somewhere in the region of £32,000 today. Was this to make provision for Katherine?

On September 7, 1533 Anne gave birth to a daughter. Alison Weir writes:

“It is possible that Katherine Carey, who was nine when the Princess Elizabeth was born, spent the next six years, until she was summoned to court, in her little cousin’s household, which was set up at Hatfield Palace, Hertfordshire.”

The two women were extremely close throughout their lives with Katherine known at court as the ‘kinswoman and good servant’ of the Queen on whom she served in constant attendance, from 1558 until her death in 1569.

And then there is the portrait …

Painted by Steven van der Meulan in 1562, the portrait shows a heavily pregnant Katherine Knollys described as being in her 38th year, which ties her birth to 1524 and fits in nicely with everything else we know.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII

She bears a striking resemblance to Henry VIII and also to his mother Elizabeth of York. Alison Weir points out that she has the same heavy lower eyelids and winged eyebrows and also the prominent chin and rounded jowls – and, of course that Tudor red hair (Mary’s hair colour is unknown and William Carey’s hair was brown)

Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth of York

On April 26, 1540 Katherine married Sir Francis Knollys, a Gentleman Pensioner in the King’s household – he was 26 years old, she was 16. A year later the first of at least 14 (most probably 16) babies was born.

It is difficult to pin down the couple’s whereabouts during the first years of their marriage.They may have lived at court or as members of Elizabeth’s household. Lettice, their third child, was born in 1543 at the family seat of Rotherfield Greys, Oxfordshire and it is more than likely some of their other children were born there too.

Protestant Sir Francis fled the country for Geneva in 1553 when Catholic Mary acceded to the throne and the Knollys couple lived apart for a couple of years, revealing a gap in the number of babies born to them.

When Katherine left court to join him, Elizabeth wrote her the following letter, signed Cor Rotto – broken hearted.

‘Relieve your sorrow for your far journey with joy of your short return and think this pilgrimage rather a proof of your friends than a leaving of your country. The lengthof time and distance of place separates not the love of friends nor deprives not the shew of goodwill. An old saying, when bale is lowest, boot is nearest,’ when your need shall be most, you shall find my friendship greaterest. Let other promise and I will do, in words not mo, in deeds as much. My power but small, my love as great as they whose gifts may tell their friendships’ tale. Let will supply all other want, and oft sending take the lieu of often sights. Your messengers shall not return empty nor yet your desires unaccomplished. Lethe’s flood hath here no course, good memory hath greatest stream, and to conclude – a word that hardly I can say, I am driven by need to write – farewell it is, which, in the sense one way I wish, the other way I grieve.

Your loving cousin and ready friend,

Cor rotto

Francis and Katherine spent sometime in Basel and Strasbourg and in 1557 they were living in Frankfurt Am Main with five of their children.

The couple returned to England upon Elizabeth’s accession to the throne in 1558 and both Katherine and Francis continued in the Queen’s service. On January 3, 1559 Katherine  was made Chief Lady of the Privy Chamber.

Occupying an influential position at court, Francis is recorded as being of a sombre character, committed to religious reform while Katherine was intelligent and known for the straightforward advice she gave to those who sought her opinion, including her cousin the Queen.

In 1565 Katherine became Chief Lady of the Bedchamber. Three years later Sir Francis was appointed guardian of Mary, Queen of Scots whom Elizabeth placed under arrest in Bolton Castle.

A combination of more than twenty years of childbearing and long hours in the Queen’s service saw Katherine’s health compromised and in 1568 she fell ill with fever. Sir Francis was refused permission to return to visit her, and when she rallied slightly and asked Elizabeth if she might travel to see her husband, this was also refused.

She died at Hampton Court on January 15, 1569, with the Queen in attendance in a reversal of roles.Elizabeth was inconsolable for many months.

Katherine’s funeral took place in April 1569 in St Edmund’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth had overseen the arrangements and paid the bill, an astronomical £640 2s 11d (more than £111,000 by today’s values).

Memorial to Katherine Knollys in Westminster Abbey

Memorial to Katherine Knollys in Westminster Abbey

Katherine was buried beneath the floor in the Chapel of St Edmund, Westminster Abbey and a plaque carries the following inscription:

“The Right Honorable Lady Katherin Knollys Cheeffe Lady of the Quenes Maties [Majesty’s] Beddechamber and wiffe to Sr. Frances Knollys Knight Tresorer [Treasurer] of her Highnes Howsholde. Departed this lyefe the 15. of January 1568. At Hampton Courte. And was honorably buried in the flower [floor] of this chappell. This Lady Knollys and the Lord Hundesdon her brother were the childeren of William Caree Esquyer, and of the Lady Mary his wiffe one of the doughters and heires to Thomas Bulleyne Erle of Wylshier [Wiltshire] and Ormond. Which Lady Mary was sister to Anne Quene of England wiffe to Kinge Henry the Eyght father and mother to Elizabeth Quene of England”.

Katherine’s date of death is recorded in the Old Style when Lady Day (March 25) marked the beginning of the New Year.

A Latin inscription below this is translated as follows:

“O, Francis, she who was thy wife, behold, Catherine Knolle lies dead under the chilly marble. I know well that she will never depart from thy soul, though dead. Whilst alive she was always loved by thee: living, she bore thee, her husband, sixteen children and was equally female and male (that is, both gentle and valiant). Would that she had lived many years with thee and thy wife was now an old lady. But God desired it not. But he willed that thou, O Catherine, should await thy husband in Heaven”.

In 2006 Sally Varlow wrote a paper about the discovery of a Latin dictionary that had belonged to Sir Francis Knollys’s and in which he had recorded the date of his marriage and the names and birthdates of fourteen children born to his wife Katherine, thereby helping to establish in turn the date of her own birth.

In 1605 Francis and Katherine’s second son and heir, William, erected a magnificent monument to his parents in the church of St Nicholas, Rotherfield Greys, near the family home Greys Court outside Henley on Thames. The monument includes seven female ‘weepers’ on one side of the memorial and seven male ‘weepers’ on the other, with a swaddled baby lying next to Katherine, presumably Dudley, the baby she is pregnant with in the van der Meulan portrait painted in 1562 and who died in infancy.

The Knollys monument at Rotherfield Greys

The Knollys monument at Rotherfield Greys

The procession of female figures is headed by Lettice Knollys who, although not the eldest daughter, married two Earls (Essex and Leicester) and therefore outranked her sisters. Historian Sally Varlow suggests that William’s wife Dorothy might also be included in the line up, which spoils my plan. Even allowing for Lettice jumping the queue, Elizabeth, born in 1549, would still be the fourth woman in the procession.

Could this be the face of Elizabeth Knollys and if so, why should she be of interest to the readers of Good Gentlewoman.

Could this be the face of Elizabeth Knollys, 3rd from front?

Could this be the face of Elizabeth Knollys, 3rd from right?

Elizabeth Knollys married Sir Thomas Leighton and had three surviving children. A son Thomas and two daughters Elizabeth and Anne.

ELIZABETH KNOLLYS, LADY LAYTON attributed to George Gower, 1577, 24 x 27 & 3/4 inches (61 x 70.5 cm) in the Dining Room at Montacute. Credit: Montacute, Sir Malcolm Stewart bequest, The National Trust.

Elizabeth Knollys, Lady Leighton.

Anne Leighton would go on to marry John St John, 1st Baronet and have her own large family. She is represented on the St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church and on the Bedstead tomb lying next to her husband and his second wife Margaret Whitmore, Lady Grobham. She died following the birth of her 13th child, a son Henry who survived her.

Now have a look at the portrait of Anne Leighton, that hangs in the dining room at Lydiard House and tell me, does she remind you of anyone?

Anne Leighton

Anne Leighton

Mary Boleyn by Alison Weir

The Bedstead Tomb

It was the year 1615 and Sir John St John began commissioning a series of quite astounding monuments to immortalise his family in the parish church of St Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze.

St Mary's Church, Lydiard Tregoze

St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze

The first memorial was the quite extraordinary polyptych complete with a pedigree painted on the outer panels. Next came the remodelling of the south chapel in 1633 followed by the Bedstead Tomb, a monument to his first wife Anne who died in 1628 and their thirteen children, and his second Margaret Whitmore, Lady Grobham, who still had four years to run on her clock.

Sir John himself would die in 1648 at his Battersea home, but not before three sons perished fighting for the Royalists in the English Civil War.

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Skip 300 years or so and by 1977 ‘the Bedstead tomb’ was in desperate need of restoration and repair. For some time the magnificent memorial made of alabaster, black carboniferous limestone and clunch, a hard, compact grey chalk, had been supported by a cradle of scaffolding and awaiting attention by conservator John Green.

Sir John St John 1st Bt

Sir John St John 1st Bt

In style and quality the tomb has been compared to work by Nicholas Stone, a leading 17th century sculptor. It was made in London and transported to Lydiard Tregoze in sections where it was reassembled in St Mary’s Church.

Anne Leighton

Anne Leighton

By the 1970s the monument was in a sorry state with rising damp and water damage to the plinth and the entablature. Part of the structure had already collapsed, including the heraldic cartouche which had fallen and smashed into pieces on the church floor while figures on the upper canopy were also in a perilous condition.

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John Green set to work on the monument with his assistant Michael Bayley. First it was completely dismantled, then cleaned, repaired and a damp proof membrane was inserted.

Margaret Whitmore, Lady Grobham

Margaret Whitmore, Lady Grobham

The monument measures approximately 4 metres long, 2 metres wide and stands nearly 4.5 metres tall. The tremendous weight of the monument required considerable support beneath the church floor and during the restoration work a pile of 17th century bricks was discovered to be doing just this.

The historical and architectural importance of St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze was recognised in Simon Jenkin’s book ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches,’ published in 1999. Sir Simon said of St. Mary’s: “Were the South Chapel to be removed lock, stock and barrel to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, it would cause a sensation.”

Some right royal St John connections

If you’ve ever wondered just how many royal connections the St John family has, I can tell you the answer – loads!

But what is so exciting and worth shouting out about is that there is a direct line of descent from the Lydiard Park St John family to Queen Elizabeth II and the three heirs to the throne, Charles, Prince of Wales; William, Duke of Cambridge and baby Prince George.

William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George.

William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George.

And this is how …

Cecilia Nina Cavendish Bentinck was born on September 11, 1862 the eldest daughter of the Rev Charles William Frederick Cavendish Bentinck and his second wife Caroline Louisa Burnaby. The Rev Charles, a grandson of former Prime Minister William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, was Vicar at Ridgmont in Bedfordshire, today a small village close to Junction 13 of the M1.

Cecilia Nina Cavendish Bentinck

Cecilia Nina Cavendish Bentinck

Twin daughters Ann Violet and Hyacinth were born to the couple in 1864 but the following year the girls’ father died, aged just 47.

The widowed Caroline married Harry Warren Scott in 1870 at St George’s, Hanover Square and the three sisters grew up at Forbes House in Ham and at their parents London residence, 45 Grosvenor Place.

Cecilia married Claude George Bowes-Lyon, Lord Glamis at St Peter & All Saints Church, Petersham on July 16, 1881. Claude, a Lieutenant in the 2nd Life Guards, was 26, Cecilia was 18 years old.

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Their first child, a daughter named Violet Hyacinth after Cecilia’s twin sisters, was born at their London home on April 17, 1882; the couple had another nine children. Four of Cecilia’s sons fought in the Great War, her fourth son Fergus, was killed in action during the Battle of the Hohenzollern Redoubt in the Battle of Loos on September 26, 1915.

But it would be their youngest daughter, Elizabeth Angela Marguerite who became known world wide and who remained in the affection of the British people for more than 79 years.

In 1904 Cecilia’s husband inherited the title 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and she became chatelaine of three grand houses, Glamis Castle, St Paul’s Walden Bury and Streatlam Castle in County Durham.

A keen gardener Cecilia designed the Italinate gardens at Glamis. Described as deeply religious and a very private person, Cecilia preferred a quiet life, something that came under threat when her youngest daughter Elizabeth married Prince Albert, Duke of York in 1923 and became Queen Consort in 1936.

26th April 1923:  King George V of Great Britain (right) and Queen Mary on the wedding day of their son George, later King George VI, to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900 - 2002). With them are the Earl and Countess of Strathmore (left)

26th April 1923: King George V of Great Britain (right) and Queen Mary on the wedding day of their son George, later King George VI, to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900 – 2002). With them are the Earl and Countess of Strathmore (left)

In April 1938 Cecilia suffered a heart attack during the wedding of her granddaughter, Anne Bowes Lyon to Thomas, Viscount Anson. She died 8 weeks later on June 23 at 38 Cumberland Mansion, London W1. Her body was buried at Glamis Castle on June 27.

So what does all this mean for the St John family spotter?

Cecilia traces her family back through the Cavendish Bentinck family to the 1st Earl of Portland, Hans William Bentinck, friend, diplomat and advisor to William III, who married Anne Villiers. Anne was the granddaughter of Sir Edward Villiers and his wife Barbara St John, who grew up at Lydiard House. Barbara’s portrait hangs in the State Bedroom in Lydiard House and she appears on the magnificent St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church.

Barbara St John, wife of Sir Edward Villiers

Barbara St John, wife of Sir Edward Villiers

So, to be precise, Barbara St John is the 10x great grandmother of William, Duke of Cambridge. Come on Swindon, let’s shout it out!