The Lost Palace of Nonsuch

Earlier this month the future of a watercolour painting of the lost palace of Nonsuch by Flemish artist Joris Hoefnagel was saved from export and secured for the nation.

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The rare painting, now on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, was acquired with support from the National Heritage Fund and the Art Fund, ensuring that it remains in the UK.

Painted by Hoefnagel in 1568, the palace of Nonsuch was a monument to Tudor excesses, although by then it had temporarily passed out of royal ownership.

Work began on the palace in 1538 as Henry VIII celebrated the birth of his son Edward and the forthcoming 30th anniversary of his accession to the throne.

Henry VIII

Built in the Franco-Italian style it became one of the most important buildings of the English Renaissance.

Henry did a proper Tudor job on the Manor of Cuddington near Ewell in Surrey. He purchased the estate from Richard and Elizabeth Codington and then demolished the church and village to build his new palace. He called it Nonsuch Palace as there was no such palace to equal it.

Some 500 workman from across Europe were employed on the site where work began on April 22, 1538. However, it was still unfinished at the time of Henry’s death in 1547 and apparently the king only visited a handful of times while his son Edward showed little interest in the palace built to celebrate his birth.

Then in 1557 the palace passed out of royal ownership altogether when Henry’s daughter Mary sold it to Henry Fitzalan, the 12th Earl of Arundel. Henry got the builders in to finish the job and it is believed it was he who commissioned Hoefnagel to paint his picture.

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In 1592 Elizabeth I purchased the former family pile and was a much more frequent visitor. In fact it was here in 1585 that she signed the Treaty of Nonsuch with the Dutch rebels fighting against Spanish rule.

The palace passed into the possession of the next two Queens when James I gave it to his wife Anne of Denmark and his son Charles I gave it to his wife Henrietta Maria.

So how come that a mere forty years later Nonsuch was no more, razed to the ground, the only evidence of its existence a bump in the landscape.

Who could possibly be responsible for this wanton act of destruction? Go on, guess?

Following the death of his mother Henrietta Maria in 1669 Charles II gave Nonsuch to his troublesome mistress Barbara Castlemaine, granddaughter of Barbara St John and Sir Edward Villiers.

Barbara Villiers - Countess of Castlemaine

You might have thought she would be thrilled to inherit Henry VIII’s palace that had no such equal. But no, not our Babs.

The corrupt countess found the property a drain on her finances, so after she had stripped it and sold everything of value, she applied for permission to knock it down and then sold the fabric of the building, all to offset her gambling debts.

While Barbara Castlemaine may have engineered the destruction of Nonsuch Palace, its good to know that the Hoefnagel painting has been saved for future generations to enjoy.

Coventry v St John

When it comes to family tombs, St Mary’s, Lydiard Park has the daddy of them all.

The St John alabaster, black limestone and clunch ‘bedstead’ tomb, a monument to Anne Leighton, first wife of Sir John St John 1st Bart was commissioned by Sir John some thirteen years before his death. 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.

During a recent visit to Croome Court I discovered a Coventry family tomb with similarities and a family connection to the St John one.

In 1751 George William 6th Earl of Coventry, inherited Croome Court and one of the first things he did was demolish the medieval church which he considered to be too close to the house for his grand design.

He did, however, strip the church of much of its interior masonry and timbers which were reused in the new build on the hill. He also transferred the bodies of a few ancestors and had them reinterred in a vault beneath the church. He re-installed some magnificent memorials in the new church of St Mary Magdalene, consecrated on June 29, 1763.

One of the memorials that moved up the hill was that of Mary Craven, the wife of Thomas Coventry, 2nd Baron Coventry of Aylesborough.

Mary was baptised at the Church of St Antholin in the City of London, on October 17,1602 the daughter of Sir William Craven and Elizabeth Whitmore and immediately we have a family connection to the St John memorial.

Mary’s mother Elizabeth Whitmore was the elder sister of Margaret Whitmore, second wife of Sir John St John, whose effigy lies on his right hand side.

And if you want another local connection, Mary Craven was the sister of Sir William Craven who built Ashdown House for Elizabeth of Bohemia and is the subject of Nicola Cornick’s time slip novel, House of Shadows.

Mary was a wealthy woman in her own right and a most suitable wife for the 2nd Baron. The couple were married at St Andrew Undershaft, (a church which now stands in the shadow of the ‘Gherkin’ in the City of London) on April 2, 1627. A son and heir, George Coventry 3rd Baron Coventry of Aylesborough was born in 1628 followed by a second son Thomas who later became the 1st Earl. Two daughters died in infancy and a third son, depicted on the monument in Mary’s arms, died at birth.

Mary died on October 18, 1634 ‘in her 29th year.’ She is depicted on the monument dressed in sumptuous bedclothes, reclining on a bed, a baby in her arms. Two children kneel at Mary’s feet, possibly her two sons, who would have been aged 6 and 5 at her death.

The Latin inscription on Mary’s monument translated reads:

In Memory of

That most illustrious Lady Maria, devoted wife of Thomas Coventry, eldest son of Thomas Baron Coventry of Allesborough, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England. A truly most admirable woman, upon whom God lavished beauty, and what is rarer in her sex, virtue, her loveliness surpassing any woman’s, her generosity surpassing any man’s, of unblemished reputation and purity of life, with a lively mind, strong judgment, an easy eloquence and pleasant speech, calmly in control of her feelings, and finally not just a wise but a calm mistress of all these gifts. A fertile mother of four children, she arrived at the last fatal confinement, bringing forth a son, against nature, rather to death than to life, so that even while trying to share out her life, she lost it, and herself yielded to fate, a short time after her child, amid general lamentation.

Anne Leighton also holds her last and 13th child in her arms on the St John monument, but we know this child, a son named Henry, lived to adulthood. Anne lies alongside her husband and his second wife Margaret Whitmore. At her head kneel Anne’s five surviving sons and at her feet her three surviving daughters. Two sons and two daughters who died young are depicted at the base of the monument.

The inscription reads: 

Anne was the daughter of Thomas Leighton, Knight, by his wife Elizabeth of the Knowles family and of the kindred of Queen Elizabeth, as blessed in character as in connection. She lived for thirty seven years, endowed with noble gifts of mind, body, and manner, a rare example of virtue and piety; she was the mother of thirteen surviving children; in the end, long worn down by the painful agonies of her last confinement and at last overcome, she fled to heaven on the 19th September, 1638.

The date is incorrectly recorded and should read 1628.

The Coventry tomb is big and bold, but I have to say the St John one is more finely carved and superior, even with an error in the inscription. Well I would, wouldn’t I?

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The Coventry monument

 

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Mary Craven and child

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The St John tomb

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Margaret Whitmore, Mary Craven’s aunt

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Croome Court

“Welcome to my office,” said Joe as he led the Friends of Lydiard Park group from the visitor’s centre along a winding pathway which opened up on to this breath-taking view.

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Croome Court has been a work in progress for more than 260 years as restoration continues today. The 6th Earl of Coventry’s £400,000 (worth £35 million in today’s money) project began in 1751 with the building of a Palladian mansion and a landscaped parkland and work continued throughout the 18th centuries. Croome Court was sold in 1948 following the death of the 10th Earl at Dunkirk in 1940.

The National Trust acquired 670 acres of the Park in 1996 and in 2007 the Croome Heritage Trust bought Croome Court and leased it to the National Trust on a 999 year lease. The house opened to the public on September 26, 2009.

The 6th Earl of Coventry inherited Croome Court in 1751 when he was 28 years old, but he already had a vision for his family home. He engaged Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (who designed first the house and then the grounds) and Robert Adam neoclassical architect, interior and furniture designer, to fulfil his ambitions.

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At my first glimpse of Joe’s ‘office’ I could see many similarities to Lydiard House. Admittedly on a larger scale, well yes a MUCH larger scale, but then John St John probably didn’t have £400,000 at his disposal.

Joe walked us past the Georgian Gothic church, built when the 6th Earl demolished the medieval church which stood too close to the house, pointing out the world’s most impressive greenhouse in the distance and up to the stairs on the north front where we met volunteer guide Rosie who gave us a most fascinating and comprehensive tour of the house.

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Most exciting for me was visiting the apartments occupied by the 6th Earl’s 2nd wife Barbara St John.  Barbara was the fourth daughter of John St John, Baron St John of Bletsoe and his wife Elizabeth Crowley.

Barbara was no slouch in the beauty stakes as is evident from her portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds around the time of her marriage.  Today the portrait is part of the Faringdon Collection and is on display at Buscot Park.

The Earl’s second marriage was much more successful than his first to the actress and society beauty, the stunning Maria Gunning. The teenage Maria and her sister Elizabeth were presented at Court to George II in December 1750 and in little over a year they were both married.  Elizabeth to the 6th Duke of Hamilton and on March 5, 1752 19-year-old Maria married George William 6th Earl of Coventry.

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In his second wife Barbara the 6th Earl found a soulmate, a meeting of like minds.  She was interested in birds and animals and George created a menagerie and a model dairy and farm for her.  Boating parties took place on the lake with firework displays to entertain their guests.

Barbara’s rooms at Croome Court were among those re-decorated by one of the more recent owners of the property who gave her elegant bedroom a bathroom makeover. Quite what happens to this room is still up for debate as the National Trust occupancy is still relatively recent and there is an awful lot of work still to do.

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So what were the best bits of my day – well, I loved standing in Barbara St John’s rooms, and the attic rooms, oh and the Church where I discovered the grave of William Dean (more of that to follow) but I didn’t have time to explore the parkland with its numerous follies or visit all the rooms in the house, or the walled garden not to mention the RAF Defford Museum where radar was developed.

 

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Croome Court most definitely requires a second visit…

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.

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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 and the grandchild and heir of Roger St John. However, the supposed connection between de Port family and Fonmon is very new and without documentation. Several historians have ‘suggested’ that William St.John (son of Adam de Port) is the person who signed a Glamorganshire 13th century charter, but as yet no one has found any proof.

Adam De Port’s son William declared on entry to parliament that he (William de Port) was from this day forward to be known as William Sancto Johannes. It is likely
that William’s mother died before the St.John inheritance passed to her
son. Panel two of the St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze, shows these relationships and GEC Complete Peerage quotes the Latin text of William’s declaration to parliament.

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

 

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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