The highlight of this year’s Swindon Festival of Literature for me was meeting Elizabeth St. John.
Elizabeth travelled from her 21st century home in California to her ancestral home at Lydiard Park to deliver a sell out talk about her book The Lady of the Tower.
In the majestic Grand Hall in Lydiard House, Elizabeth talked about writing historical fiction and how she crafted her novel about Lucy St John, the youngest sister depicted in the St John family portrait at the centre of the polyptych. Then in the gathering twilight we were treated to a private viewing of the memorial in St Mary’s Church, where Elizabeth and her daughter were photographed alongside their ancestors.
Elizabeth’s book, the first in a series, has been a labour of love which had its beginnings in an article Elizabeth wrote entitled The Influence of the Villiers Connection on the First Baronet and his Sisters, published in 1987 in the Friends of Lydiard Tregoz Report No 22.
Meticulously researched, Elizabeth sets the scene as the 16th century draws to a close. With the death of Sir John St John and his wife, the former Lucy Hungerford, what is to become of their only surviving son John and their six daughters Katherine, Jane, Anne, Eleanor, Barbara and Lucy?
In the Lady of the Tower Elizabeth follows the fortunes of youngest daughter Lucy, but in this earlier article she explores the wheeling and dealings of Barbara St John’s husband Edward Villiers and his half brother George, the King’s favourite, created Earl of Buckingham in 1618 (raised to Duke of Buckingham in 1624).
Sir John St John, First Baronet, returns to Lydiard shortly after his marriage to Anne Leighton where he is reunited with his sisters. These were the Golden Years when the family coffers were full and the St John star rising.
“Amidst all the turbulence of seventeenth century political manoeuvring, power broking, financial scheming and friendship trading, the First Baronet appears as a haven of imperturbability. He seems to have been content to stay close to home, father his children, manage his estates and devote himself to increasing the splendour of his Church and home. His life could never have been dull, though with the constant stream of family crises that his sisters encountered. His willingness to support them through their problems shines through, and Lydiard must have been a welcome retreat from the harsh realities of day-to-day life for all of the the family.”
Elizabeth is American Ambassador for the Friends of Lydiard Park and can be contacted through the website.