Arms of Stourton.jpgLord Stourton and Stourton Caundle:

A little-known History (Part 1 of 3)

The ancient house of Stourton derives its surname from the Manor of Stourton in Wiltshire, which was the seat of the Stourton family from before the time of the Norman Conquest until 1714. William Stourton, the 2nd Baron Stourton, inherited our village, known as Caundel Haddon, when he married Margaret, daughter of Sir John Chidiock about 1450. The Lords Stourton managed to avoid siding with either of the two factions during the Wars of the Roses and so remained in favour with Henry VII on his accession in 1485.

Fast forward a few generations and we come to Sir William Stourton (1505–1548), who was knighted in 1523, became a Member of Parliament for Somerset in 1529 and inherited the family estate as 7th Baron Stourton in 1535, his mother retiring to her jointure house: the chateau or ‘castle’ of Caundel Haddon. Sir William’s interests seemed mainly of a military nature but also found time to father 10 children, including one by his mistress, Agnes Ryse (his wife’s first cousin and grand-daughter of the 2nd Duke of Norfolk) with whom he lived in his later years. He spent little time in the parish of Stourton, choosing instead to employ a certain William Hartgill (1493-1557) as his steward to manage his estates in his absence. It appears that Hartgill had for a long time been an associate of the Stourtons, having been mentioned in the will of an earlier Sir William, the 5th Baron Stourton, who died in 1523. This connection with Hartgill and separation from his wife eventually led to the undoing of both the Stourton family as well as the reputation and standing of our village, which seems to have lost much of its heritage dating from those times.

How did all this happen? I shall try to explain in this article together with sequels to appear in the next two issues of The Stourton Caundler.

The seeds of the downfall were sown during the 1540s when Sir William was at the height of his power and he began to buy up lands from the Crown that had been taken from the then Catholic Church by Henry VIII as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536–1541. Not only did the income received by the Crown help to finance Henry VIII’s warring ambitions in both France and Scotland, but also Sir William was active militarily in both those campaigns. In this way, though a staunch Catholic, he curried the King’s favour despite the change in religion to Protestantism. In 1541–1543, he was able to purchase lands in Somerset including the Manor of Kilmington from the Crown; it having belonged to the Monastery of Shaftesbury, and since its dissolution had been leased to William Hartgill as tenant. Unbeknown to Sir William, Hartgill began to take advantage of his position as steward and managed to acquire some of these properties for his own. As well as being untrustworthy, Hartgill and his sons were known to be violent characters having been the subject of several depositions attesting to their unruly behaviour as presented to the Somerset magistrates as early as 1540.

Eight days before he died, Sir William, the 7th Baron Stourton, revised his Will, in favour of his mistress, which document subsequent to his death in 1548 was contested for many years thereafter. His affairs were left in what can only be described as a mess. His successor, the 8th Baron Stourton, Charles (c.1520–1557) had to deal with this, which soon led him into disputes with Hartgill. He may have also attracted enemies because he became a more overt Catholic than his father at a time when this religion conflicted with the then comparatively new persuasion of Protestantism.

After the death of Henry VIII in 1547, the throne passed to his son, the boy king, Edward VI, who was sickly and died prematurely in 1553 aged 15, after which there was a dispute over succession. Protestantism had thrived under Henry and Edward, and the Book of Common Prayer written by Cranmer, which abolished the Latin Mass, was first published in 1549. But those times were tumultuous especially during the struggle for succession when Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, deposed Lady Jane Grey and eventually had her executed. Charles remained loyal to Mary becoming her Lord Lieutenant of the counties of Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset. As the years passed, Mary (aka ‘Bloody Mary’) enforced the conversion of England to Catholicism with the utmost severity, including having the elderly Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer burnt at the stake in Oxford in 1556.

Such were the times when Lord Stourton became embroiled in a long-running feud between himself and William Hartgill, a neighbour who continued to live at Kilmington, Wiltshire and who appears to have had Protestant leanings. Also latterly, rather than live in Stourton alongside their unruly neighbours the Hartgills, Charles and his wife leased out their manorial home at Stourton preferring to live at the Manor of Caundel Haddon here in our village.

The plot thickens!

To be continued … Richard Miles

Arms of Stourton.jpgLord Stourton and Stourton Caundle:

A little-known History (Part 2 of 3)

The plot continues …

We have seen that the 1550s were a tumultuous time in much of England largely owing to the deeds of Mary I, who became queen in 1553 and who plunged the country into turmoil through her imposition of Catholicism and her persecution of Protestants. Starting in 1555, many prominent people, including bishops, were burned at the stake on the grounds of heresy: others fled the country. Yet, monastery lands confiscated under Henry VIII were not returned to the church but remained in the hands of their influential new owners, including Charles, 8th Baron Stourton, who served as Mary’s Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset, owning properties in all three counties. The Manor of Stourton Caundle was one such property, it having previously been known as Caundel Haddon.

Charles Stourton’s father died in 1548 leaving a disputed Will in which his mistress, Agnes Rice was a named beneficiary, and properties that his father’s steward, William Hartgill contested as did some relatives of Charles. Agnes appears to have continued living at the Manor of Stourton supported by Hartgill, until she married c.1553. Charles’ mother, Elizabeth had also been befriended by Hartgill, who sought to foster bad feeling between mother and son. Later she lived at Caundel Haddon as a widow although she did eventually remarry to raise her children. Charles married Lady Anne Stanley in 1549. The Stourton Estate was very extensive owning property throughout many of the villages of Dorset although the most important looks to have been our village, which was sometimes referred to as Sturton Candell. Charles and his wife, who bore him 6 children within as many years, would have often lived at the ‘castle’, a large fortified house near present-day Manor Farm.

Writs were issued by various interested parties in an effort to resolve disputes over the Will but these seemed to create more disharmony between the various parties involved, most notably Charles Stourton and William Hartgill. Charles was convinced that Hartgill, whilst acting as steward to his father, when instructed to carry out transactions on his behalf, had stolen title to several properties more especially in Kilmington. In subsequent years, each appeared to be guilty of employing heavy-handed methods although Lord Stourton’s men seemed to generally have had the upper hand in terms of administering violence. Things came to a head on 12 January 1556 concerning their dispute over land and property of the Manor of Kilmington, when Charles’ men dispossessed Hartgill of property there, which they then proceeded to occupy. By August 1556, Hartgill had organised a summons that Stourton’s men were to appear in court at Frome to answer charges. However, it appears that the case was adjourned until 20 January 1557, by which date both William Hartgill and his son, John had been murdered!

Hartgill claimed damages of 300 marks (£368) and Lord Stourton had had to appear before the Council of St. James’s, Westminster on 29 December, having been temporarily held in The Fleet, a debtors’ prison. He secured release on a bond of £2,000 ostensibly to travel back home to arrange payment of the debt. He left London and went straight to Stourton Caundle and sent word to Hartgill that he was ready to pay the damages claimed, as instructed by the court, and to end their dispute. A meeting in Kilmington churchyard was arranged for 11 January at 10am.

At the due time, Charles Stourton arrived accompanied by some 15 of his servants to meet Hartgill, his son John and others of their family. Proffering two purses as though about to pay his debt, Lord Stourton tricked the two Hartgills into coming forward, at which point 10 or more of Stourton’s men arrested the pair declaring them to be the felons. They tied them up and held them all day against their will.Around 2am on the 12th, the men took them to Bonham near Stourhead. At about 4pm they were visited by two justices of the peace, at Lord Stourton’s request, and the prisoners were untied. But after they had departed, his men retied them and at 10pm, four of his servants took them to a place near Stourton House where they clubbed them down and ultimately cut both their throats and worked through the night to conceal their bodies by burying them some 15ft deep and disguising the workings with two layers of paving and wood chippings. What madness lay behind these actions, we may never know especially since so many people had witnessed the original kidnapping and violence.

Note that the above account is largely based on the accounts given in Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of “The History of the Noble House of Stourton: of Stourton, in the county of Wilts”, written by Charles, the 21st Baron Stourton and privately published in 1899. The above differs markedly from the information on website, which asserts that the double murder was committed on village soil. Nevertheless our village appears to have subsequently lost out as a consequence of this heinous crime, the aftermath of which will be the subject of Part 3.

To be continued … Richard Miles

Arms of Stourton.jpg

Lord Stourton and Stourton Caundle:

A little-known History (Part 3 of 3)

In this last of three short articles, I summarise the aftermath of the double murder in 1557 incited by Charles, 8th Baron Stourton who inherited much wealth including the Manor of Sturton Candell, which was where he and his wife, Anne and their children appeared to be domiciled at the time of the crime. Not only did the Stourton family lose out because of this dreadful crime but also our village looks to have become poorer as a result. I shall try to explain.

As first-born son of, William the 7th Baron, Charles Stourton was a very wealthy man having inherited many estates and manors. His father had also purchased other manors in the 1540s following the Dissolution of the Monasteries but then died leaving a Will that was contested. His arch enemy appears to have been William Hartgill, the former steward of his father and grandfather. Hartgill and Stourton had had many disagreements and their feud seems to have been especially bitter since Stourton was a Catholic whereas the murdered Hartgill and his son had been Protestant, at a time when the state headed by Mary I was persecuting those of the latter faith.

Needless to say following the murder, Charles Stourton and four of his men were apprehended and brought to trial in London on 26 February 1557, where he confessed and was found guilty. They were sentenced to be hanged. Stourton departed the Tower of London for Salisbury tied to a horse, where, being a peer of the realm, he was famously hanged with a silken cord in the market square on 6th March. There is a story handed down by word of mouth that Lord Stourton, being a devout Catholic and Lord Lieutenant, was in fact pardoned by Queen Mary the day before the sentence was due to be carried out but that word of this did not reach the Sheriff in time. He has no known tomb. It was believed for a long time that he lay beneath a monument in Salisbury Cathedral but this is now understood to be a shrine to St. Osmund, founder of the cathedral at Old Sarum.

In those days, a capital crime such as had been committed by Lord Stourton would not only result in the murderer forfeiting his life, but all his estate would revert to the Crown. Stourton’s wife, Anne must have been bereft, and in her distress she sent a letter to Mary I pleading for compassion, and pointing out that her husband had been a loyal subject of Her Majesty. Lady Stourton was in danger of having her eldest son, John aged 4, being taken from her to become a ward of Sir Hugh Paulet, who for the sum of £340 would acquire Stourton’s estate. She asked that she retain responsibility for her children’s education, and specifically John’s until he reached the age of 10, and to retain Stourton House in Wiltshire. The final point she made in the letter to the Queen concerned the location she was living at: namely the fortified house or ‘castle’ in Stourton Caundle. This, she reported, was her only dwellinghouse and that it was in a “ruynous” and “corrupt” state, i.e. it must have been in a poor state of repair. The response came in a letter from Greenwich dated 20 April 1557 saying that Lady Stourton was being given 10 days to make available monies to the estimated value of the property, so that she would then retain ownership.

Castle_church_detail.png Stourton Caundle had been an important parish during the early 16th Century generating an annual income to the Stourton family of more than £60. After her husband’s demise, Lady Anne will have moved back to Stourton House. We know that Stourton Caundle remained part of the Stourton Estate but many other Dorset manors were sold off by the Crown, including that of Hinton St. Mary. Around 1560, Anne married Sir John Arundel (~1527–1590) of Lanherne, Cornwall, remaining a devout Catholic until her death in 1602. She had a further 7 children by Sir John.

It is presumed that the ‘castle’ was left to fall into disrepair since no funds were available for its upkeep. A representation of the castle, the Church of St. Peter, and a large conventional house can be seen in the oldest map depicting our village, dated 1569–1574. The castle is believed to have disappeared by 1600 and its stone used in buildings such as The Retreat, Gwyers, and possibly Manor Farm.

You may be surprised to learn that on 25 May 1979, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a play entitled, “The Tragedie of Charles, Lord Stourton“, the play having been written by John Fletcher in the style of an Elizabethan revenge tragedy. A recording is available at the British Library Sound Archive. According to the plot, “Stourton was a real 16th-century Catholic landowner who came into conflict with his Protestant neighbours. Unable to obtain justice in the courts, Stourton was forced into an act of violence leading to his own death.”

In another twist of the tale, the well-known journalist and broadcaster, Edward Stourton (b. 1957), often to be heard on the BBC, is a direct descendant of the 19th Baron Stourton, Charles (1802–1872). He also is a Catholic, often presenting “Sunday”, Radio 4’s religious and ethical current affairs programme. His middle names are ‘John’ and ‘Ivo’, the latter name is also that of Edward’s first child and possibly harks back to a very distant ancestor, namely to Sir Ivo Fitzwaryn (1347–1414), a previous Lord of the Manor of Caundel Haddon, which is another story!

Richard Miles