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!

Lady Anne Clifford

Don’t you just love the St John women – intelligent, feisty, and brave? From Anne St John, Countess of Rochester who juggled her estates, protecting her family fortunes during the English Civil War, to Anne Douglas, Lady Dalkeith who laid her life on the line to protect baby Princess Henrietta Maria, the 17th century St John women showed their mettle.

And here is the story of another, earlier, Anne – Anne Clifford, whose ancestry can be traced back to two St John women on both the maternal and paternal sides of her family.

In 2013 a lost portrait of Anne was discovered in a private European collection and purchased by the National Portrait Gallery – but the story of Anne is far from lost and her name appears in scholarly works and books by eminent historians such as Professor R.T. Spence and Lady Antonia Fraser.

Anne Clifford

Anne Clifford

Anne was born on January 30, 1590 at Skipton Castle, Yorkshire, the Clifford family seat. As the third child and only daughter of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, and his wife the former Lady Margaret Russell, Anne’s future was pretty much mapped out for her.

However with the death of her two elder brothers Anne became heiress to the title Baroness Clifford suo jure and extensive land and property in the north of England – but claiming her inheritance would be far from plain sailing.

The death of their two sons coupled with the de rigueur bad behaviour of the 3rd Earl, saw Anne’s parents drift apart and for much of her childhood the couple lived separately. Anne grew up with her mother’s family at the great Russell owned mansions Chenies in Buckinghamshire and North Hall in Northaw and was at the very centre of court life. When the Queen died in 1603 thirteen year old Anne wrote in her diary:

‘When the corpse of Queen Elizabeth had continued at Whitehall as long as the Council had thought fit, it was carried from thence with great solemnity to Westminster, the Lords and Ladies going on foot to attend it, my mother and my aunt of Warwick being mourners, but I was not allowed to be one, because I was not high enough, which did not trouble me then, but yet I stood in the church at Westminster to see the solemnity performed.’

 Surrounded by her intellectual relatives and all the big names on the 17th century arts scene, Anne grew up well educated.Throughout her lifetime she was a great reader with Chaucer a particular favourite. Anne could also be found swotting up on Turkish history and there was nothing she enjoyed more than being read to.

But then in 1605 her father died and Anne’s long battle to secure her inheritance began.

In his will George Clifford left his daughter a useful £15,000 portion but the extensive estates in the north he bequeathed to his brother Francis.

Anne’s mother, Lady Margaret, rapidly took up the legal cudgels on behalf of her 15 year old daughter and secured occupancy of the Skipton properties, although Francis retained possession of these and the rest of the estates. It would take more than 40 years of litigation and the death of Francis and his son Henry, before Anne could claim her rightful inheritance.

Before that she weathered two pretty unhappy marriages. The first to Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset in 1609 who was dubbed ‘one of the 17th century’s most accomplished gamblers and wastrels.’ The couple had five children, three sons who died young and two daughters.

Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset

Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset

Dorset was openly unfaithful to his wife and even brought his mistress, Lady Penistone, to live at the family home of Knole House.

Even worse, Dorset involved himself in Anne’s inheritance battle, complicating the situation and winding up Anne at the same time. In 1615 the couple were told they could either have the Skipton and Westmorland estates or the £15,000 portion but not both. Dorset’s interference led to all the estates going to Francis and his male heirs while Anne received £17,000 in compensation which Dorset promptly snaffled.

Despite an injection of wealth on the death of Dorset in 1624 life didn’t get any easier.

The first thing Anne did was to buy from the crown the wardships of her two daughters Margaret and Isabella before securing her own future with a marriage to Charles I’s Lord Chamberlain, Philip Herbert, Earl of Mongomery and Pembroke in 1630.

Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Pembroke

Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Pembroke

Now in her forties Anne was not prepared to stand for any nonsense and as soon as he started with the ‘I want Skipton Castle …’ malarkey she left him to it. Taking her younger daughter Isabella with her, Anne divided her time between Pembroke’s Wiltshire homes until the outbreak of the Civil War, by which time he had moved across to the Parliamentarian side and needed her to guard his treasures at his London home, Baynard’s Castle.

Following Pembroke’s death in 1649 Anne spent her last years doing – well, exactly what she wanted to. She restored numerous castles on her estates between which she progressed with royal like splendour. She built properties and almshouses for her retainers and commissioned works of art and monuments. A generous friend she bought books in bulk, mainly of a devotional nature, to give as presents.

Lady Anne Clifford in later life

Lady Anne Clifford in later life

Anne died on March 22, 1676 in Brougham Castle aged 86 – one of the wealthiest noblewomen of her time – and was interred in St Lawrence Church, Appleby.

Anne Clifford's monument in St Lawrence Church, Appleby.

Anne Clifford’s monument in St Lawrence Church, Appleby.

The recently recovered portrait was painted by William Larkin in about 1616 when Anne was 26/28. Anne’s description of herself – ‘The colour of mine eyes was black like my father’s and the form and aspect of them was quicke and lively like my mother’s. The hair of my head was brown and very thick … with a peak of hair on my forehead and a dimple in my chin’ was one of the contributory factors when it came to identifying the portrait.

On her paternal side Anne’s 3x great grandmother was Anne St John, the daughter of Sir John St John and Alice Bradslaugh. Sir John was the elder son of Oliver St John and Margaret Beauchamp and headed the senior, Bletsoe branch of the St John family. He was half brother to Margaret Beaufort and therefore uncle to Henry VII.

On her maternal side Anne’s grandmother was Margaret St John, the daughter of Sir John St John and Margaret Waldegrave. This Sir John was the grandson of Sir John and Alice – I know, it’s tricky keeping tabs on everyone.

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The Great Picture tells of Lady Anne’s family history and was commissioned by her in 1646. It hung in Appleby Castle for more than 300 years and today is on show at Abbot Hall Art Gallery.Visit the website to learn more about the picture.

In 1615 St John St John 1st Baronet of Lydiard House, Wiltshire commissioned something very similar to commemorate his family history. The polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze, will be open on the weekend of July 25 and 26 to celebrate its 400th anniversary.

St John polyptych

St John polyptych

For more about the history of Lydiard House see Status, Scandal and Subterfuge.

Alice St John, Lady Morley

Did you catch Jane, Lady Rochford in last night’s episode of Wolf Hall?

Good Gentlewoman

The St John family has several close connections with Royalty.  Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine had a whole nursery full of Charles II’s babies while her cousin John Wilmot, Lord Rochester also got up to some jolly japes with Old Rowley.

But one hundred and fifty years earlier Alice St John could claim an equally close connection with Royalty.  Alice’s father Sir John St John of Bletsoe was Henry VII’s first cousin.

As the monarch’s mother, Margaret Beaufort spread the love to her St John kin.  She made her nephew John, son of her half brother Oliver, Chamberlain of her household and for her little great niece Alice, her other half brother John’s granddaughter, she found a place at Court.  And even better then that – she found her a husband as well.

In the early 1500s Alice married Henry Parker who had grown up in the household of Alice’s great-aunt…

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Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Countess Kildare

On February 3, 1537 five brothers, Sir James, Sir John, Oliver, Richard and Walter Fitzgerald, were taken from the Tower of London where they had been incarcerated for 11 long months.They were most probably fastened to a hurdle or wooden panel and drawn behind a horse the five miles from the Tower to the terrible Tyburn gallows – here they were hung, drawn and quartered.

HRP_ToL_02

The Fitzgerald family, Earls of Kildare, had been Yorkist supporters during the Cousins’ War and Henry VIII was wont to keep a close eye on them. In 1533 he summoned Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare to London. This was a pretty big year for Henry. He married and crowned Anne Boleyn, his daughter Elizabeth was born and he was excommunicated by Pope Clement VII. So a bit up and down!

Henry_VIII_and_Anne_Boleyn

Thomas Fitzgerald, Lord Offaly, the Earl’s 21 year old son, was left in charge back home in Ireland.

However, news reached Thomas that his father had been beheaded in the Tower. Unaware that this was a ploy by the family’s enemies to provoke the young heir, Thomas rallied his followers and rampaged through the streets of Dublin to the Chapter House of St Mary’s Abbey where the King’s Council awaited him. Silken Thomas, so called on account of the silk his followers wore on their helmets, threw down his Sword of State and renounced his allegiance to the King.

Thomas 'Silken' Fitzgerald, Lord Offaly

Thomas ‘Silken’ Fitzgerald, Lord Offaly

Thomas then went all out to bring Dublin to its knees. The ironic twist in this sad story is that when the Earl heard what his son had done, he took to his bed in the Tower and died.

Back home things went from bad to worse. Great swathes of Kildare and Meath were burned; the people who survived the conflagration were driven out. The new deputy sent by Henry to quell the rebellion was Sir William Skeffingdon who laid siege to the Fitzgerald’s stronghold, Maynooth Castle.

Maynooth Castle pictured in 1898

Maynooth Castle pictured in 1898

It was all over. Thomas surrendered to Lord Grey who promptly packed him off to the Tower and soon after his arrest his five uncles were also captured, even though three of them had openly and publicly disproved of their nephew’s actions.

Men in their 30s and 40s at the time of their execution, it is impossible to imagine sustaining the loss of five sons, brothers, uncles – kinsmen with a large extended family left to mourn them.

So where is the Good Gentlewoman in this story, I hear you ask, and what is the St John connection?

Here comes the family history bit.

Thomas ‘Silken’ Fitzgerald 10th Earl of Kildare, was the son of Gerald Fitzgerald 9th Earl who was the son of another Gerald, the 8th Earl and his first wife.

The 8th Earl of Kildare had a large family of 14 children, seven by his first wife and seven by his second. His first wife was Alison FitzEustace.

His second wife, the mother of the five sons hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, was Elizabeth St John, the daughter of Oliver St John and his wife Elizabeth Scrope of Lydiard Tregoze.

Following the death of the 8th Earl in 1513 Elizabeth married Sir John Wallop, a soldier and diplomat and considerably younger than Elizabeth, possibly as much as 20 years younger.

Elizabeth died on June 28, 1516. Further research is necessary to discover her place of burial.