The Friends of Lydiard Park

The Good Gentlewoman blog has found a new (and very fitting) home on the Friends of Lydiard Park website. The Friends of Lydiard Park is a charitable organisation, which supports and promotes interest in Lydiard House, its beautiful grounds and the St. John family who owned the estate for more than 500 years. When it was suggested that the Good Gentlewoman might like to take up residence it felt like the natural place for her to be.

The Good Gentlewoman blog continues to develop with two recently uploaded posts. Read about Mary Meredith whose first husband had the dubious distinction of being the last peer to be hanged.

Time to party? Join the Villiers ladies at the fabulous Devonshire House Fancy Dress Ball which took place in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

And if you’d like to read more about The Ladies of Lydiard my book is now available from Amazon.

The Friends of Lydiard Park
Mary Meredith
Constance, Countess of Derby as Duchess of Orleans
The Ladies of Lydiard by Frances Bevan

The Ladies of Lydiard

This week I am thrilled to announce the publication of my book The Ladies of Lydiard, which has been my work in progress for several years.

The St. John family who owned Lydiard House and Park for more than 500 years were an extraordinary family. Related to royalty they were both famous and notorious in equal measure. The lives of the St. John men have been well documented, but I wanted to know about their wives and daughters and the stories behind the spectacular portraits in Lydiard House.

The Ladies of Lydiard is published this week by Hobnob Press and is available online at Amazon both here and in the US and Australia.

The cover girl on The Ladies of Lydiard is Anne Leighton, wife of Sir John St. John, 1st Baronet and if you think she looks a bit Tudorish – well there could be a reason for that!

Good Gentlewoman is on the move …

In future you will be able to catch up with Good Gentlewoman on the Friends of Lydiard Park website –

I look forward to meeting you there!

Buried – The Lady Ellinor Roberts Widd

When war raged across England in the 17th century the St. John family, like so many others, were divided by the conflict. Sir John St. John 1st Baronet, lost three sons to the Royalist cause while his two younger boys fought on the Parliamentarian side. His sister Lucy St. John watched her son Allen Apsley join his Cavalier cousins in battle while her daughter Lucy supported her regicide husband John Hutchinson.*

And yet another of those sisters portrayed on the St. John polyptych had to reconcile her Royalist background with the  sympathies of a Parliamentarian; William Roberts, a friend of Oliver Cromwell and her son in law.

When Jane’s husband Robert Atye died in 1612 he left his family well provided for. Following the death of his son Arthur his daughter Eleanor (spelling varies) became a wealthy heiress and a desirable marriage prospect.

Eleanor was about 16 years old when she married her near neighbour in Willesden, William Roberts in 1624, the year in which he was knighted by James I at Greenwich. The newly weds moved into Neasden House, the Roberts family home built by Thomas Roberts in the reign of Henry VIII. During William and Eleanor’s occupancy it became one of the largest houses in Willesden. It needed to be as the babies soon began to arrive, some sources say as many as 15.

A son, Edmund Roberts was baptised at St Mary’s, Willesden on July 23, 1625. After that they arrived at fairly regular intervals – William 1628, Mary 1629, John 1631, Jane 1634, Frances 1634/5, William 1637, Elizabeth 1639, Eleanor 1641, Edward (date of birth unknown). And during the Civil War Eleanor took three sons to St. Mary’s, Willesden to be baptised – Thomas on July 6, 1645, Francis on November 29, 1646 and Richard on April 9, 1648.

Sir William Roberts served on various commissions under Charles I but he soon revealed his Parliamentarian credentials. In 1644 he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Middlesex and ordered to muster 300 trained men to suppress an uprising at Windsor.

Roberts was one of 135 nominated commissioners chosen to attend the trial of Charles I but it is unlikely he took an active role, unlike Lucy St. John’s son in law, John Hutchinson who was among those that signed the King’s death warrant.

A powerful character, Sir William dominated the parish of Willesden. He even conducted marriages at his house and took charge of the parish registers during the Interregnum, his signature frequently appearing within the pages.

Sir William’s post war career proved equally busy and very lucrative. He was first appointed as one of the contractors who arranged for the sale of episcopal land. By 1652 his role was extended to include the sale of crown and royalist land. Raised to the peerage in 1658, Lord Roberts took his seat in Cromwell’s ‘upper house.’

Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 Roberts managed to hang on to his wealth. He died on September 19, 1662 and was buried at St. Mary’s Church, Willesden.

So, as usual plenty of information can be found about Sir William, but what about Eleanor. Yes, it’s the same old story – I can’t even find a will as yet, although I’m convinced she must have left one.

Soon after her husband’s death Eleanor and her eldest son Sir William Roberts 1st Baronet ended up in a battle in the Court of Chancery. William challenged his mother’s right to sell 120 acres of land in Willesden and Hendon to Edward Nelthorpe. She meanwhile counter claimed that William was treating as his own land in Willesden, Kilburn and Hampstead that should have gone to a younger son, Edward.

There is one other intriguing reference to Eleanor. In an attempt to calm the religious turmoil that continued following the Restoration, Charles II issued the Royal Declaration of Indulgence in 1672. This was an attempt to allow greater religious freedom for Catholics and non-conformists. Lady Eleanor Roberts of Willesden is recorded as requesting a licence for a non-conformist minister to serve at St. Mary’s, Willesden.

Eleanor died in 1678 and was buried at St. Mary’s, Willesden on November 22.

*And if you find the St. John family and the 17th century fascinating (and quite frankly, who wouldn’t) then you are sure to enjoy the Lydiard Chronicles, a series of three historical novels by Elizabeth St. John – The Lady of the Tower, By Love Divided and Written in their Stars, with the companion Counterpoint series, Theo, Earl of Suffolk, Barbara, Lady Villiers and Henry, the King’s Cavalier.

Lydiard Chronicles


Novels by Elizabeth St. John


William Roberts Knight


Entry of a marriage ‘approved’ by William Roberts in 1653.



St. Mary’s, Willesden.

polyptychThe St. John polyptych

DSC03418Eleanor’s mother Jane St. John, third from right.

Cecily, Princess of York

There’s no denying the Woodville women were a fine-looking lot. Elizabeth Woodville was said to have used her beauty and maybe some feminine sorcery, to ensnare the king, Edward IV into an illicit marriage.

Richard Neville alias Warwick the Kingmaker was not happy. He was busy at the time negotiating a marriage for Edward with either Anne of France or Bona of Savoy in an attempt to strengthen ties with Louis XI of France, and any way what about Eleanor Talbot (Butler/Boteler) with whom there was supposedly a ‘contract of marriage’ or Elizabeth Lucy (Waite) his long standing mistress who also possessed a pre-contract. Ah well, these things happen.

Edward and Elizabeth’s union produced five daughters who survived to adulthood and two sons, the unfortunate Princes murdered in the Tower of London. The whole family is portrayed in stained-glass in the Royal Window in the northwest transept of Canterbury Cathedral. The original 1483-84 version was damaged during the 1640s, and the one on view today is a modern replica. The image of Cecily, kneeling between her sisters Elizabeth and Anne is now held by the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.

Cecily was born on March 20, 1469 at the Palace of Westminster, the third of Edward and Elizabeth’s children. Before her second birthday Cecily was with her pregnant mother and sisters as they sought sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. In due course she would be stripped of her royal status and declared a bastard.

But as the crown bounced back and forth between the warring royal cousins, daughters were an important commodity during the turbulent times of the fifteenth century and Sir Thomas More pretty much summed up her life when he described Cecily as ‘not so fortunate as fair.’

By the time she was just five years old, Cecily had been betrothed to first James III’s son and heir and then to the Scottish king’s brother Alexander Stewart, Duke of Albany. Neither of these betrothals came to fruition and in 1485 she was briefly married to Ralph Scrope of Upsall, a marriage arranged by her uncle Richard, who had by then declared himself king.

But later that same year the exiled Henry Tudor returned, seized the crown and married Cecily’s elder sister Elizabeth, so it was goodbye Ralph. The marriage was promptly annulled and Cecily was lined up for another dynastically advantageous marriage – and this is where the St John family link comes in.

During the winter of 1487/88 Cecily married John Welles, 1st Viscount Welles KG. John was the son of Margaret Beauchamp and her third husband Leo (Lionel) Welles, 6th Baron Welles. John was half-brother to Margaret Beaufort (and also to her St John half siblings) and therefore the King’s uncle of the half blood. John had received his returning uncle when he landed at Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire on August 7, 1485, and was knighted that same day. He went on to fight alongside Henry at the Battle of Bosworth, so his credentials were pretty sound.

Was this marriage a happy one? To be honest I don’t think happiness was a big consideration for a woman in Cecily’s position. Cecily was 18 at the time of her marriage and John approximately twenty years her senior. The couple had two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne, both of whom died young.

Cecily made frequent appearances at court, as befitted the daughter of one king and the sister-in-law of another and one who had a dodgy claim to the throne, it has to be said. In 1486 she carried her baby nephew Arthur to his christening and the following year she was one of the attendants at her sister’s coronation as Queen Consort.

But then in 1499 John Welles died and following a short period of widowhood Cecily decided when she married again it would be to a man of her own choosing. The date of her marriage to Thomas Kyme is not accurately recorded, but is believed to have taken place between May 1502 and January 1504 and without Royal License and boy was Henry displeased when he found out. He promptly banished her from court and confiscated her land.

Margaret Beaufort, the King’s Mother, championed Cecily’s case and allowed the couple the use of her home, Collyweston Palace. The marriage was a short one. Cecily, Princess of York died on August 24, 1507. Yet despite her high status, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about Cecily’s life and death.

Some sources claim that Cecily went on to have two children with Thomas Kyme, but as their existence was not ‘discovered’ until the 17th century, this seems unlikely. Thomas Kyme (or Kymbe or perhaps Keme) is described as a Lincolnshire gentleman, but an estate on the Isle of Wight also figures in their story. In fact, there is a legend that Cecily died at East Standen on the Isle of Wight and was buried at Quarr Abbey. However, there is evidence that she most likely died at a property in Hatfield owned by Margaret Beaufort where she had been staying for several weeks before her death. Margaret’s household accounts indicate that she paid most of Cecily’s funeral expenses at “the friars,” – could this be King’s Langley, a Dominican priory in Hertfordshire with a family connection and where Edmund of Langley, Duke of York was buried in 1402?

You’d really think there would be more concrete evidence about the lives of these women. I suppose that’s why such characters are much loved by historical novelists as they can invent the unknown bits.

So, there we have it – Cecily, Princess of York and another connection to the fascinating St John family from Lydiard Park.

Royal window Canterbury Cathedral

The Royal Window – Canterbury Cathedral published courtesy of Casey and Sonja

Princess Cecily

Cecily, Princess of York

Margaret Beaufort's tomb

Margaret Beaufort’s tomb in Westminster Abbey


Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s Queen.


Lady Margaret Beauchamp published courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball


The other Margaret Beaufort

It’s all very confusing! Some of the public family trees posted on the online genealogy website Ancestry are in a right royal old muddle and it’s all down to the two Margaret Beauforts.

As St John family followers will know, one is famously the mother of Henry VII and half sister to a whole bunch of medieval St Johns. The other Margaret Beaufort is her cousin but unravelling the Beaufort/Beauchamp links can prove quite tricky.

‘Our’ Margaret was born in 1443, the daughter of Margaret Beauchamp and her second husband John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. The ‘other’ Margaret was born c1437 and was the daughter of Eleanor Beauchamp and her second husband Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

Uh oh. So where do we start?

Like so many of our medieval women, there is little information to be found about the ‘other’ Margaret Beaufort, and rather more about the men in her life (yawn).

Her father was Edmund Beaufort, the younger brother of John Beaufort, ‘our’ Margaret’s father. The title of Duke of Somerset became extinct after the death of John but was revived and given to his brother Edmund, so sometimes Edmund is referred to as the first Duke of Somerset and sometimes as the second – like we need any more confusion in this story.

The Beaufort family were at the very epicentre of the mid 15th century royal upheaval. Edmund was a serious contender for the throne and a civil war protagonist along with Richard 3rd Duke of York. A Lancastrian supporter, Edmund was killed in the battle of St Albans on May 22, 1455, the first battle in what is more familiarly now known as the War of the Roses.

This is most probably the same year in which the ‘other’ Margaret married Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Stafford.  Humphrey was the  brother of Sir Henry Stafford who in 1462 became ‘our’ Margaret’s third husband. So now the two cousins also become sisters in law as well. Cripes!

And what about the ‘other’ Margaret’s mother, Eleanor Beauchamp (same surname as ‘our’ Margaret’s mother). Well here we have to clamber up the old Beauchamp family tree a bit until we get to two Beauchamp brothers William born in around 1240 who in due course became the 9th Earl of Warwick and his younger brother Sir Walter Beauchamp born around 1255. The Earl of Warwick was the ‘other’ Margaret’s ancestor while Sir Walter was ‘our’ Margarets. The brothers parents were William de Beauchamp and his wife Isabel Mauduit, which means that both Margaret Beauforts shared their maternal 5x great grandparents.

By the early 1460s the ‘other’ Margaret was widowed and about to marry Sir Richard Dayrell or Darell whose family seat was Lillingstone Dayrell, Buckinghamshire. For St John family followers there is an interesting Wiltshire connection here. Richard and other members of the Darell family served as Sheriff of Wiltshire and owned Littlecote Manor in Ramsey, Wiltshire, just up the road from Lydiard Tregoze.

Was the ‘other’ Margaret’s second marriage a happy one? Well, I’ll leave you to decide.

The Collections for a History of Staffordshire record a lawsuit dated 1466 served by Alexander Darell, Richard’s elder brother, which declares that Richard owed their mother 45 marks at the time of her death. The debt had accrued for his wife’s board and lodging in 1463. It appears that this ‘other’ Margaret spent a total of 45 weeks with her mother in law and Richard had failed to settle the bill. It was suggested, without any firm evidence I might add, that in 1463 the ‘other’ Margaret was ‘an embecile’ and ‘non compos mentis.’

It seems more likely, however, that the ‘other’ Margaret spent the duration of her pregnancy with her mother in law and left after the birth of her daughter.

So the scant reference we have to the ‘other’ Margaret intimates that she may (or may not) have suffered from a mental illness or mental incapacity. Well, I’m not sure how helpful that is.

So, when and where did she die? That seems to be confusing as well. Some of the  Ancestry public family trees put her date of death as May 22, 1474 and her place of death as the Abbots House, Cheyney Gates, Westminster Abbey, which is a bit of a coincidence as this is where ‘our’ Margaret died in 1509. These same family trees invariably include a very famous portrait of ‘our’ Margaret at prayer and even one of her tomb in Westminster Abbey. If there is a portrait of the ‘other’ Margaret I haven’t come across it yet. It appears that the ‘other’ Margaret died in approximately 1476 when aged about 39 years old.

So as you can see, it’s easy to confuse  the two Margaret Beauforts. It’s fortunate the St John family followers know the true story of ‘our’ Margaret.

Britain’s Royal Families – The Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir

Lady Margaret Beaufort

Margaret Beaufort's tomb

The tomb of Lady Margaret Beaufort, Westminster Abbey


Henry VII


Portrait of Margaret Beauchamp – St John polyptych, St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Park.

Theresa Villiers MP for Chipping Barnet

Theresa Villiers was returned as MP for Chipping Barnet for the 5th time in the December 12, 2019 General Election. A former barrister, Theresa first served as MEP for London 1999-2005 and was Deputy Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament 2001-2002. Since then she has served as Minister for Transport 2010-2012, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 2012-2016 and at the time of writing she is Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Theresa was born in Hunstanton, Norfolk in 1968 and grew up in St John’s Wood. She is the daughter of George and Anne Villiers.

Now, I know it’s been some 300 years, but with a name like Villiers, well you just have to wonder if there is a St John connection. You may recall that Barbara St John married Sir Edward Villiers, half brother of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, favourite of James I & VI. By this connection the Villiers came in line for numerous royal favours.

But was it a bit of a long shot that Theresa Villiers MP is descended from the 17th century St John/Villiers marriage? But, I decided it was worth a punt and a delve into the St John family archives.

I don’t know why I even questioned the fact. Trawling back through eleven generations of politicians and military leaders, through the earldoms of Clarendon and Jersey, I arrived at Sir Edward Villiers and his wife Lady Frances Howard. Lady Frances had been governess to the princesses Mary and Anne, daughters of James Duke of York (later James II) while Sir Edward had fought in the first of the English Civil Wars. And of course Sir Edward was the son of Sir Edward Villiers and his wife Barbara St John, Theresa’s 9x great grandparents.

I can see a bit of a St John resemblance, can’t you?


Theresa Villiers MP for Chipping Barnet

Copyright Lydiard House / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Barbara St John – Theresa Villiers’s 9x great grandmother


(c) Lydiard House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Sir Edward Villiers – Barbara St John’s husband and Theresa Villiers’s 9x great grandfather


Katharine Pleydell Bouverie – A Simple Potter


katharine pleydell bouverie

Katharine Pleydell Bouverie

Today Katharine Pleydell Bouverie’s work comes with an expensive price tag, which would probably astonish the potter. Katharine described herself ‘as a simple potter. I like a pot to be a pot, a vessel with a hole in it made for a purpose’.

Katharine’s training began in post First World War London at the Central School of Arts and Crafts where she met Bernard Leach, regarded as the “father of British studio pottery.” She completed her apprenticeship at the Leach Pottery in St Ives doing odd jobs alongside learning from Japanese ceramicist Matsubayashi Tsurunosuke.

In 1924 Katharine returned to the family home at Coleshill, Wiltshire where she established her own pottery. She was later joined by potter and teacher Norah Braden and the two women shared a studio for eight years.

In 1946 the Pleydell Bouverie family sold Coleshill House to Ernest Cook and Katharine moved to Kilmington Manor, Warminster where she continued to work until her death in 1984 aged 89.

Katharine’s obituary appeared in the Times, published January 17, 1985.

“Miss Pleydell Bouverie’s contribution to modern pottery lay in the glazes which were her life long experiment. In particular she created a range of wood ash glazes which beautifully complimented the simple undemonstrative style of her pots.”

katharine pleydell bouverie

Katharine Pleydell Bouverie

Katharine has been described as unassuming, her passion for her work far exceeding any desire for fame or fortune.

She was a founder member of the Craftsmen Potters’ Association of Great Britain and helped establish the Crafts Study centre at the Holburne Museum in Bath. Her work was exhibited through the 1950s to the 1970s and a major retrospective exhibition was held in 1980.

So, here comes the St John family reveal.

Vernon St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, was born in 1896, the only legitimate son of Henry, 5th Viscount Bolingbroke, and his former housekeeper Mary Elizabeth Emily (Bessie Howard). Following the death of her husband in 1899, Lady Bolingbroke and her three sons took up permanent residence at Lydiard Park.

Vernon Henry, 6th Viscount, circa 1927

Vernon St John

Vernon was seemingly a gentle soul who loved nature, the countryside and music. He served as a private in the First World War, the only peer of the realm to do so, and was invalided out of the army suffering from shell shock.

Katharine Pleydell Bouverie was born on June 7, 1895 at Coleshill House, Berkshire. She was the youngest of three children. Her father was the Hon Duncombe Pleydell Bouverie, second son of Jacob Pleydell Bouverie, 4th Earl of Radnor.

Katharine Pleydell Bouverie and Vernon St John, Viscount Bolingbroke were second cousins. Their common ancestors were their great-grandparents Sir Henry Paulet St John, 3rd Baronet and his wife Jane Mildmay who had eleven sons and three daughters. One of their daughters, Maria St John Mildmay, married Vernon’s grandfather Henry, 4th Viscount Bolingbroke and a second daughter, Anne Judith St John Mildmay, married Katharine’s grandfather Jacob, 4th Earl of Radnor.

Did Katharine and Vernon enjoy family get togethers at Coleshill or Lydiard, a mere 12 miles apart. The old aristocratic families liked to maintain their kinship connections, so who knows?

Photograph of Coleshill House, formerly in Berkshire [c 1930s-1980s] by John Piper 1903-1992

Coleshill House

Both properties were sold in the 1940s. Coleshill House, built in the 17th century, was sold to Ernest Cook in 1946.  Sadly, during renovation work in 1952, a blow lamp used to remove old paintwork from dormer windows, set fire to the property.  A gallant rescue effort by local people managed to save valuable paintings, furniture and books. What little remained of the building was later demolished.


Lydiard House

The Lydiard estate was sold by the Trustees of his mother’s will in 1943. Vernon, broken by the loss of his inheritance and 500 years of St John family history at Lydiard House, moved to Hampshire. Lydiard House and Park was bought by Swindon Corporation and has been in public ownership for 75 years.


The Favourite

Have you seen The Favourite, the story of Queen Anne, her long-time favourite Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and the contender for that position, Abigail Hill? The story is layered with pathos and humour and even the laugh out loud moments are incredibly sad.

The film stars Rachel Weisz as Sarah, Emma Stone as Abigail and Olivia Colman as Queen Anne. The winner of a Golden Globe and nominated for a BAFTA, what next for Colman, an Oscar?

The film ends … well, I won’t tell you how it ends, but would you like to know what happened next, and of course, what is that all important St John link?

After a volatile confrontation (with sexual overtones) in the woods, Abigail marries the dashing young Samuel Masham, but who was he?

Samuel Masham, first Baron Masham of Otes, was the son of Sir Francis Masham, 3rd Baronet, and his wife Damaris Cudworth. As the film reveals, Samuel was at the centre of life at Queen Anne’s duplicitous court. He served as first a page, then equerry and groom of the bedchamber to Anne’s husband, Prince George of Denmark. He entered parliament as a Tory MP for Ilchester in 1710 and Windsor in 1711 and was one of twelve Tory peers created in 1712.

Masham married Abigail in 1707 and the couple had at least five children, three sons and two daughters, the elder of whom was named Anne, after Abigail’s best friend forever, the Queen.

Ann Hoare nee Masham by Michael Dahl

Born in 1708, Anne was only 18 when she married banker Henry Hoare II on April 11, 1726. Henry Hoare II became known as Henry ‘the Magnificent’ in recognition of the work he accomplished on the family estate at Stourhead, furnishing the palatial Palladian mansion with works of art and landscaping the grounds. Sadly, Anne never lived to enjoy the fruits of his labours as she died on March 4, 1727 shortly after the birth of her daughter. The young couple had been married less than a year and Anne was just 19 years old.

The baby born on February 28 1727, a daughter, was named Anne after her mother. Little Anne died on January 30, 1735 just before her eighth birthday. Mother and daughter are buried in Stourton churchyard, the parish church just a short walk from the home where they both lived and died.

Henry Hoare II ‘ Henry the Magnificent.

Now brace yourself for the St John connections as there are several. The Hon Anne Masham, the young first wife of Henry Hoare II, daughter of Samuel and royal favourite Abigail, traces her ancestry back four generations to her great-great-grandmother Lady Elizabeth Barrington. In 1611 Lady Elizabeth married William Masham, 1st Baronet, but this was not her first marriage. She had previously been married to Sir James Altham, by whom she had a daughter Johanna.

In 1630 Johanna married Sir Oliver St John, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, at St Mary’s Church Harrow. The couple had four children, two sons and two daughters. One daughter, Johanna, married Sir Walter St John of Lydiard Tregoze, the other Catherine married his brother Henry.

This makes young Anne Hoare nee Masham and the brilliant but attainted politician Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, Secretary at War in Queen Anne’s government in 1704, third cousins.

But the St John connection doesn’t end there.

Hoare’s bank was founded in the 1670s by Richard Hoare. In 1697. Henry St John (Johanna and Walter’s reprobate son and the father of Viscount Bolingbroke) opened an account with Hoare’s bank in Fleet Street, the first of three generations of St Johns to do so. In 1704 Walter, Henry’s father, opened an account.

In 1735 John (Jack) St John, Viscount Bolingbroke’s half-brother, also entrusted his finances to Hoare’s bank. In fact, by 1735 Jack was about to inherit his wife’s not inconsiderable fortune and was thinking about remodelling the Tudor mansion house at Lydiard Park. Jack nipped down to Warminster to see what Henry was doing at Stourhead. Jack might have had a grand design but the grounds at Lydiard Park didn’t extend to 2,600 acres, which was fortunate as his bank account wasn’t up to the challenge either.

All things considered Jack made a very nice job of Lydiard House and Park, which is still enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year.

See below views of Stourhead and Lydiard Park.

A Treasure Trove of Family Wills

Sometimes the handwriting is almost illegible, the archaic language difficult to interpret, but I do love grappling with a last Will and Testament.

I recently came across a treasure trove of family wills which helped me identify titles and properties and make some important family links.

The four Bulkeley sisters died within an eight year period – Bridget in 1775, Anne and Elizabeth in 1778 and Eleanora in 1782. Bridget was a spinster, the other three all married but only Anne had children.

Bridget, the eldest sister, was baptised on July 18, 1705 at St Martin in the Fields and at the end of her life was living in Highgate.  In the 18th century Highgate was a small, country town some five miles away from London. Set high above its neighbouring parishes Highgate offered a healthy environment in which to live for those wealthy enough to afford the property prices, much like today really.

Views of Highgate

When Bridget wrote her will on April 30, 1761 she had no need to identify her address, ‘I Bridget Bulkeley of Highgate’ sufficed. Today it is difficult to identify where she might have lived, if the property still survives.

Bridget’s will was my first find and was the key that unlocked the family relationships. After the usual preamble, Bridget announces bequests to her sisters.

‘I give to my sister Ellinora Maria Hervey wife of George Hervey of Tiddington in the County of Oxford Esq and to the said George Hervey one hundred pounds between them I give to my sister Ann Bertie widow of the late Reverend Dr William Bertie of Allbury in the County of Oxford the sum of one hundred pounds Item I give to my sister Elizabeth Price wife of William Price of Rhiwlas in the County of Flintshire Esq and to the said William Price the sum of one hundred pounds between them.’

Then comes a generous bequest to her nieces.

‘Item I give to my three nieces Fanny Bertie Sophia Bertie and Ann Bertie the daughters of the said late Dr William Bertie and his wife to each of them the sum of one thousand pounds to be paid to them respectively at their respective ages of twenty one years…’

To her nephews James and Richard Bertie she gives the sum of £100 when they reach the age of 21 and arrangements are made should any of the nephews and nieces ‘dye.’

Bridget leaves bequests to her three servants. Mary Parott receives £100 plus an additional £10 to spend on mourning attire. Ann Howard and Catherine Pinock receive £10 and £5 respectively for ‘mourning.’

Bridget appoints her brother in law George Hervey and John Jones, an ironmonger from the Parish of St Martins, to be executors of her Will but by the time of her death in 1775 both had also died. Administration of her will, therefore, went to her sister Anne.

Bridget was buried on November 20, 1775 in the vault beneath the Church of St Michael, Highgate – not the present church but the old Highgate Chapel, originally a hermitage chapel.

the Old Chapel Highgate

The Old Chapel, Highgate

For all her married life Anne lived in the Oxfordshire parish of Albury where her husband William Bertie was Rector at the parish church. The baptisms of their children appear in the parish registers and when her sister Eleanora married George Hervey on September 19, 1749 the service was conducted by William. In 1767, several years after William’s death, Anne moved to Wales where she lived with her sister Elizabeth at Daynol in the County of Flintshire.

In her will Anne makes reference to several large sums of money – £2,000 from her marriage settlement, £1,500 left to her by her ‘Uncle Abingdon’ and a further sum of £1, 438 0s 7d, totalling £4,938 0s 7d. Her three daughters were bequeathed varying amounts of money. Frances receives £775 (£100 of which was left to her by her ‘Grandmother Bulkeley.’) Sophia receives £375 while Anne is bequeathed £775. Sophia was married so possibly received an endowment at the time of her wedding, while Anne and Frances remained spinsters. Everything else went to her son Richard who she appointed as her executor.

Elizabeth’s will made on July 6, 1778, less than six months after Anne’s death, is the briefest of all four documents. Her first instruction is that she wishes to be buried with her late husband in the parish church of Llanfawr in Merioneth. Next she leaves £20 to Hester Bridge, who is one of the witnesses on both Anne and her own will, and then £20 to her ‘servant maid Catherine Humphrey.’ Everything else she wraps up very neatly leaving the ‘rest residue and remainder of my personal estate and effects of what nature or kind soever’ to her nephew Richard Bertie and unmarried nieces Frances Eleanor and Anne Bertie.

What is noteworthy about Bridget, Anne and Elizabeth’s wills is the absence of any personal bits and pieces, jewellery, paintings, books. it’s all about the money.

Eleanora Maria was living at Rivers Street in the City of Bath at the time she made her will and at last there are some personal items. She also begins with instructions as to her burial. She wants a private funeral and to be buried with her late husband George in the vault at Chilton parish church. The three Bertie nieces are left £50 each as is their brother Richard, who this time dodges the burden of being made executor. She leaves mourning rings to the Earl of Abingdon and several friends, and small cash bequest to her servants, Samuel and Elizabeth Badrick and Fanny Stone on condition they are still in her employ at the time of her death.



Rivers Street, Bath


Eleanora later added a codicil to her will with a bequest of £50 made to William Montague, a family friend.

Why doesn’t Eleanora have the same disposable income enjoyed by her sisters? Eleanora was the second wife of George Hervey in a marriage that had not produced any children. The Hervey estate went, therefore, to his daughter from his first marriage, Barbara Hervey.

The four sisters along with two brothers were the children of Richard Bulkeley, 4th Viscount Bulkeley of Cashel and his wife Lady Bridget Bertie. The Bulkeley family hailed from Anglesey and was one of the most powerful families in North Wales. Richard Bulkeley, 4th Viscount Bulkeley, a staunch Tory and Jacobite sympathiser, was described as a ‘vigorous personality, but such was the cumulation of offices in his own person that the squires of the western commotes broke out in revolt.’ *

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey

The girls mother Lady Bridget Bertie, also came from a wealthy influential family.  The Bulkeley/Bertie parents were therefore keen to maintain family connections when it came to the marriage of their daughters. Anne married the Rev William Bertie, the brother of Willoughby Bertie, 3rd Earl of Abingdon.  Elizabeth was married to William Price, the son of Martha Bulkeley. Martha was the sister of Richard Bulkeley, 3rd Viscount Bulkeley who was Elizabeth’s grandfather.

Bridget, Viscountess Bulkeley

But how do the four Bulkeley sisters figure in the St John family history and Lydiard Park. The Bertie name may give you a clue. This was the family who fought hard to get their hands on Eleanor Lee’s fortune, much to the chagrin of her grandmother, Anne, Countess of Rochester, formerly Anne St. John.

Anne St John was born at Lydiard Park, the daughter of Sir John St John 1st Baronet and his wife Anne Leighton Ta dah!


*Thomas Richards, D.Litt;, (1878-1962) Bangor published 1959

Anne, Mrs Wharton

Have you ever heard of the 17th century poet and dramatist Anne Wharton? No, neither had I.

The only work published during her lifetime was an elegy to her uncle John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. After her death there was a short period during which her work was celebrated, but after that she was largely forgotten until in 1997 when Germaine Greer and Susan Hastings edited a publication called The Surviving Works of Anne Wharton.

The younger of two daughters, Anne was born on July 20, 1659 after the death from smallpox of her father Sir Henry Lee, 3rd Baronet of Ditchley, Oxfordshire.  She was baptised at All Saints Church, Spelsbury, Oxfordshire and her mother died just ten days later. The two little orphaned sisters were raised by their paternal grandmother, Anne Wilmot, Countess of Rochester.

Anne Mrs Wharton

Anne, Mrs Wharton

In 1664 Anne, Countess of Rochester, was appointed Groom of the Stole to Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, the first wife of the King’s brother James. Until the death of the Duchess in 1671 Anne Rochester spent much of her time at court with her two little granddaughters in tow. A court described as “extravagantly and exhibitionistically licentious” by Greer and Hastings,

Anne and Eleanor received an education befitting their status, possibly joining the Princess Mary for French lessons at Court. They would have received lessons in music, dancing, writing and needlework and Anne was known to have spoken Italian.

When not at Court, the Countess of Rochester remained living at the  home of her first husband, Sir Francis Henry Lee, in Ditchley with her extended Lee and Wilmot family.

By 1665 the sisters were living at the newly repaired and restored Wilmot family seat, Adderbury House, which had suffered under the occupation of parliamentarian troops during the Civil War.

The original house was small and Anne Wilmot remodelled the property in 1661 on which she is said to have spent £2,000. In a 1665 tax assessment there were 14 hearths recorded in the property and an inventory drawn up in 1678 lists Great and Small Halls, Drawing Room, Great Room above stairs, Great Square Chamber, Lesser Dining Parlour and eleven other rooms, excluding the offices.

Aged just 12 and 10 years old, Eleanor and Anne bought their first property under the supervision of their trustee Sir Ralph Verney, a 40 acre estate called Chelsea Park. The sisters had inherited a considerable fortune from their mother, Anne Danvers, making them each a very marriageable proposition.

Anne St John, Countess of Rochester

Anne St John, Dowager Countess of Rochester

An entry in the parish registers of St Mary’s, Adderbury on September 16, 1673 records the marriage of the Honble Thomas Wharton Esq., eldest son of the Lord Wharton and Anne Lee, the younger daughter of Sir Henry Lee. Thomas was 25, Anne just 14 years old.

The minimum legal age at which a girl could marry in England was then 12 years old, although in practise this was unusual.

Anne’s husband Thomas Wharton had already earned a reputation as a rake and even her uncle, the licentious John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester was horrified that his mother was brokering a marriage with the profligate Whig politician, but perhaps Rochester had his own agenda.

Charles II wanted Anne to be married to a member of the Arundell family. Richard Arundell, 1st Baron Arundell of Trerice had served in the Royalist army during the Civil War and had fought at Edgehill and Lansdowne. He was raised to the peerage after the Restoration in recognition of the support he and his father had given Charles I. It was probably Richard’s son John the King had in mind for Anne.

But Lady Wilmot had set her sights on the fortune of Thomas Wharton. The irony of this is that Anne brought a dowry of £10,000 to the marriage and an income of £2,500 a year. On her death she left everything to Wharton.

Wharton was believed to have infected his young wife with syphilis, the great scourge of the 17th century, but Anne’s death sentence may have already been delivered before her marriage.  After her death in 1685, her brother in law, Goodwin Wharton, wrote an explosive autobiographical expose. The manuscript was never published but is held by the British Museum.

Goodwin claimed that he had had an affair with Anne but that he had not been the only one. He wrote of how before her marriage (remember, aged 14) Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough, would bribe a servant to admit him into the bedroom Anne shared with her sister. He also claimed that Anne had ‘lain with long by her uncle, my Lord Rochester.’ It would seem likely that Anne had been abused and assaulted before her marriage and the candidates for infecting her with syphilis were several.

What kind of person was she? John Carswell author of The Old Cause: Three Biographical Studies in Whiggerism published in 1954, described her as a ‘demure, pious child’ while other accounts of Anne’s character have been somewhat derogatory and inaccurate and recorded to enhance the reputation of her husband. Considering her prominent position in court life she is something of a shadowy figure, seldom noted at social events when it could be safely assumed she was present. The only continuing interest in her appears to be in that of the inheritance she shared with her sister Eleanor, a battleground between their husband’s families and their grandmother Anne Rochester.

Copyright Lydiard House / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl Rochester

There was evidence of Anne’s frail health even before she married. In August 1672 she went to Bath to take the treatments where she stayed for three months, a particularly long time which would have cost a considerable amount of money. Aged thirteen and just months before her wedding, Anne was suffering from a very sore throat. She soon began to experience problems with her eyes and in 1678 travelled to Paris for treatment. Two years later she returned to Paris suffering for convulsions (involuntary muscle spasms) which increased in frequency and severity.

Greer and Hastings propose a number of theories concerning Anne’s ill health, and make a convincing case that she was infected with syphilis long before her marriage to Wharton. However, they point out that her symptoms could also be attributable to epileptiform seizures, tuberculosis and even as a consequence of her medical treatment where mercury was commonly used.

Anne’s last days were spent wracked by convulsions and in great pain. She died at Adderbury on October 29, 1685 aged just 26 years old. She was buried in the Wharton family vault beneath the Chancel at St Mary Magdalen, Upper Winchendon.

Anne left £3,000 to Hester, John Wilmot’s daughter by the actress Elizabeth Barry, the rest of her fortune she left to her husband.

Thomas Wharton succeeded to the title Marquis of Wharton in 1715, some 30 years after Anne’s death. Anne’s correct title was therefore plain Mrs Wharton, not Marchioness of Wharton as she is frequently called in books and articles and which has caused confusion between other women named Anne in the Wharton family.

Even during her lifetime Anne enjoyed an extensive critical readership and the admiration of a network of professional writers including among them Aphra Behn. The first collected edition of her works was published in 1997 by Germaine Greer and Susan Hastings and in 2004 more work was discovered including 11 poems previously unknown.

Copyright Lydiard House / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Sir Walter St John

So what is the connection to the St John family, although I’m sure you have probably worked it out by now. In the summer of 1664 Eleanor and Anne accompanied their grandmother on a visit to Lydiard Park where they stayed with Lady Rochester’s younger brother Sir Walter St. John. Sir Walter had been one of the trustees acting on behalf of the young Anne Lee during the marriage arrangements. Anne’s grandmother, Anne Wilmot, Countess of Rochester was the daughter of Sir John St John 1st Baronet, and his wife Anne Leighton who lived at Lydiard Park.


The Surviving Works of Anne Wharton edited, with textual notes and commentary, by G. Greer & S. Hastings published by Stump Cross Books 1997