Elizabeth St John and The Lady of the Tower

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 St John and her daughter Emma.
Photo published courtesy of Richard Wintle Calyx Multimedia

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.

Elizabeth writes:

“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.

Elizabeth Knollys, Lady Leighton

Pippa Middleton, the younger sister of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, married her millionaire fiance James Matthews today at St Mark’s Church, Englefield in Berkshire in what is already being described as Britain’s wedding of the year.

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s two children, three year old Prince George and his little sister Princess Charlotte 2, were among the eight attendants.

When Catherine Middleton became engaged to Prince William in 2010 a family tree was published purporting that both Catherine and William could trace their common ancestry to Elizabeth Knollys, Lady Leighton and her husband Sir Thomas. William descended from their younger daughter Anne who married Sir John St John 1st Baronet and Catherine from the elder one Elizabeth. (The story of Anne Leighton, who married Sir John St John 1st Baronet in 1604, is told here.)

Unfortunately, in a pamphlet written in 1890 by an over zealous family historian, Canon James Davenport, who jumped to one too many conclusions, as it is so easy to do, and traced the Davenport family through the Talbots to the elder Leighton daughter. Then in 2010 it was republished all over again, this time in the Daily Mail, and I for one became very excited – a second, sideways link from the young Royals to Lydiard House and the St John family.

Sadly the error was quickly exposed – but the good news is there still remains a St John, Lydiard Park link between William and Anne!

The Knollys family were about as close to Elizabeth I as it was possible to be.

Katherine Knollys was her first cousin, the daughter of Mary Boleyn, and possibly even her half sister. There is a much disputed rumour that Katherine was the product of her mother’s affair with Henry VIII. The King, however, did not acknowledge Katherine as his daughter, but he did put a lot of opportunities and wealth in her way. Perhaps neither Mary nor the King could be entirely sure, but there is no denying a strong physical resemblance.

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Katherine, Lady Knollys

Katherine’s husband Sir Francis Knollys served three Tudor monarchs in roles varying from Privy Councillor to Governor of Portsmouth and guardian of Mary, Queen of Scots. A staunch puritan, he worked tirelessly for Elizabeth I at great personal sacrifice.

Katherine served in the young Princess Elizabeth’s household before she acceded to the throne and records reveal that Katherine and her husband Francis took part in the ceremony and celebrations for Elizabeth’s coronation and that coronation livery was granted to Lettice and another sister, Elizabeth Knollys. From 1558 Katherine served as a Lady of the Bedchamber, accompanied by her daughters, including young Elizabeth Knollys, then aged just nine years old, who served as a Maid of the Chamber.

The Queen’s relationship with the couples children was also close and complicated and in the case of their daughter Lettice, well quite frankly, a little weird.

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Lettice Knollys

Lettice had an affair with and later married the Queen’s favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Essex, causing the Queen to call her a She-Wolf, among other insults, and to banish her from Court.

At the end of her life the Queen’s last favourite was none other than Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex and Lettice’s son, by her first husband Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex. I know, bizarre, and the Queen never forgave the beautiful red head who bore a passing resemblance to herself.

But let’s return to the life and times of Katherine’s seventh child and fourth daughter, Elizabeth born upon ‘trynte even’ 1549. Henry VIII’s 12 year old son was on the throne, although the boy’s uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, was Protector and called all the royal shots.

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Elizabeth Leighton formerly Knollys

Sir Francis was a Justice of the Peace in Oxfordshire at this time, so it is most likely Elizabeth was born at the Knollys family home Rotherfield Greys. In 1557, during the reign of Mary Tudor, Katherine left the country to join her husband in religious exile in Germany, taking her five youngest children with her; most probably Elizabeth, Robert, Richard, Francis and Anne.

A year later the family returned – Katherine was appointed Chief Lady of the Privy Chamber and the future looked safe – well as safe as it ever looked in Tudor times.

Elizabeth spent pretty much her whole life in the confines of the claustrophobic court where the women employed to care for the Queen’s every need had to apply for a licence to be absent from court for more than two weeks.

Positions at court were all about status with the top posts reserved for ladies from the upper echelons of society.

By 1566 Elizabeth was one of the Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber, the day room where the Queen spent much of her time. Elizabeth had daily access to the Queen, to confide in and to influence her and it is known that she was involved in privy council business and decision making.

In 1578 Elizabeth married Thomas Leighton; a somewhat late marriage for both of them. she was 28 and he was 43.

Thomas had been a Gentleman of the Household for ten years before which he had served as a soldier and had seen service at the Seige of Rouen in 1562 and in defence of the garrison at Le Havre a year later. In 1569 he had commanded 500 harquebusiers during the Northern Rebellion and in 1570 he was appointed Governor of Jersey and Guernsey.

Elizabeth, however, remained at court for most of their married life. She had three children, a son Thomas and two daughters, Elizabeth born in 1583 and Anne in 1587.

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Anne St John formerly Leighton

 

And curiouser and curiouser I will soon be revealing yet another link between the modern Royals, little Prince George and the St John family from Lydiard Park.

 

 

 

Elizabeth St John – Puritan pioneer

Have you caught up with Jamestown and how accurate is the portrayal of life in the 17th century pioneering settlement? The eight part series now showing on Sky One tells the story about the “maids to make wives” scheme operated by the Virginia Company of London.

Established in 1607 the Jamestown colony had been without suitable marriageable women for 12 years when the enterprising Virginia Company began recruiting. Dr James Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation and adviser on the series says the women who volunteered for this scheme had a sense of idealism and optimism and came largely from the middle and lower middle classes.

The colonisation of Lynn, more than 600 miles north along the eastern seaboard, began soon after the settlement of Jamestown.

Local tribal leader Wenepoykin, renamed Sagamore George by the English, headed the Rumney Marsh Indians who lived on the borders of the marsh in Lynn and Saugus, Massachusetts.  Conflict between the indigenous Native Americans and the English settlers was a very real threat when Rev. Samuel Whiting and his wife, Elizabeth St John arrived in 1636.

Elizabeth St John was a pious, serious young woman, about as different from her licentious cousin Barbara, Countess Castlemaine as it was possible to be.

Born in Bletsoe, Bedfordshire in 1605, Elizabeth was the daughter of Oliver St John and his first wife Sarah Bulkeley.

The 17th century St John’s were united by family associations but divided by political allegiance.  While the junior branch at Lydiard Tregoze stood firmly for the Royalist cause, the senior Bletsoe branch was Parliamentarian and Puritan.

Elizabeth’s elder brother was the celebrated lawyer Oliver St John who challenged the illegal Ship Money tax imposed by Charles I and later served as Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.  Oliver was a staunch supporter of Oliver Cromwell and eventually married into the Lord Protector’s family – twice; firstly to an aunt, Johanna Altham and secondly to a cousin, Elizabeth Cromwell.

Raised in the well heeled St John family Bletsoe home, Elizabeth received a comprehensive education and developed an interest in public affairs.  Her biographer William Whiting writes that she was a fit companion of scholars and statesman. Elizabeth almost sounds too good to be true as William eulogises – ‘Beautiful in person and of cultivated mind, heroic but gentle, learned but modest …fearless of personal danger but of sensitive delicacy towards others, too high spirited to submit to the dictation of British prelates but too sincere a believer in the Prince of peace to provoke or endure controversy which could be honourably avoided, this noble woman gave her heart to her godly husband and her life to aid him in the ministry of the gospel.”

But there can be no denying that Elizabeth was made of stern stuff.

It is not known how or where Elizabeth first met Samuel Whiting.  Before taking a ministry in Skirbeck, Lincolnshire, Samuel had been chaplain to Sir Nathaniel Bacon and Sir Roger Townsend.

Elizabeth married the young widower in Boston, Lincolnshire on August 6, 1629.  The Puritan Pastor had already gained a reputation for his outspoken views and had been twice prosecuted for nonconformity. Influential New England Puritan Pastor Cotton Mather wrote about Samuel that ‘his design was not to please but to profit; to bring forth, not high things, but fit things.’

These were difficult times and the Whitings were among around 20,000 colonists who left England for America during 1630-1640 seeking religious tolerance and with a vision of creating a new and better society.

Whiting forfeited his property in England declaring – “I am going into the wilderness to sacrifice unto the Lord and I will not leave a hoof behind me.”

Elizabeth turned her back on the good life and with her husband, her step daughter Dorothy and her own little son Samuel, to embark upon the unknown. The small family left England in early April 1636 arriving at Boston, New England on May 26 after a tortuous journey.

“I would much rather have undergone six weeks imprisonment for a good cause than six weeks of such terrible sea sickness,” the Rev. Whiting said.

Samuel and Elizabeth remained in Boston for six months before moving north up the eastern seaboard to Saugus where Samuel was inducted on November 8, 1636.

Alonzo Lewis and James R. Newhall describe the area in a History of Lynn published in 1890 as then having a ‘bold and rocky shore, consisting of craggy and precipitous cliffs, interspersed with numerous bays, coves, and beaches, which furnish a pleasing and picturesque variety. Above these rise little verdant mounds and lofty, barren rocks, and high hills, clothed with woods of evergreen.’ Five miles from Salem in the northeast and nine miles from Boston in the southwest, the area contained 9360 acres with a boundary line measuring thirty four miles.

The Saugus territory was later renamed Lynn after Kings Lynn in Norfolk with which the Whiting family had an association.

Elizabeth’s life in Lynn was far removed from the affluent childhood she spent in Bedfordshire.   Among her many duties as Pastor’s wife she instructed the youth of the parish, helped her husband with his writings and ran his domestic affairs. William Whiting, a descendant of the couple, wrote in his memoir of the Rev Samuel Whiting published in 1873 that  Elizabeth’s days were ‘filled with many cares of her family, her parishioners, her guests, and even of the wild savages with whose presence she was not unfamiliar and to whom she gave hospitable shelter.’

And Lynn parishioner Obadiah Turner wrote in his diary that ‘Elizabeth was a godlie woman and did much to cheer and help her husband.  By her learning she was able to give much instruction to the damsels of the parish, and they did all love her as she was a tender mother.’

The couple had six children.  Two died young but sons Samuel, Joseph and John became ministers themselves and their daughter Elizabeth married a minister.

Elizabeth died on March 3, 1677 aged 72.  Samuel died two years later.  They are both buried at the Old Western Burial Ground in Lynn.

Read more about the cemetery on  http://heartoflynn.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/old-western-burial-ground.html

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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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.

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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.