The Lady of the Tower by Elizabeth St John and the St John polyptych

The stunning St John polyptych at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Park, will be open this weekend from Friday July 21 to Sunday July 23, 2017 to celebrate the 402nd anniversary of its installation.

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St John polyptych

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 Sir John and Lady Lucy’s six daughters.

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The outer panels detail the St John family history including a panel dedicated to their Tudor connections.

As Brian Carne writes in the recently reprinted Curiously Painted:

‘It can properly be assumed that Sir John St. John, 1st Baronet, drew on Sir Richard’s [St George] competence as an Officer of the College of Arms and his genealogical and heraldic knowledge for the heraldry on the central display and the pedigree on panels 4a and 8a (1616-25)’.  Sir Richard St George, Norroy King of Arms and later Clarenceux King of Arms, was married to Sir John’s aunt Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Nicholas and Elizabeth St John.

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?

Brian Carne writes: “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.’

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The St John polyptych will be open at the following times:

Friday July 21 – 11 am – 4.30 pm

Saturday July 22 – 12 noon – 4 pm

Sunday July 23 –  2.30 pm – 5 pm 

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 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 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.”

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.