History of Stourton Caundle

The Castle

By Richard Miles

The demise of the fortified manor house of Caundle Haddon

An impressive manorial dwelling stood for more than three centuries in our village but which disappeared during the 16th Century and has since been long-forgotten with precious little evidence of its existence remaining. The loss of the ‘Castle’ was a serious blow to the status of our village and from which it has never quite recovered. This account aims to explain what happened.

The Stourton family inherited the manor of Caundle Haddon around 1448 through marriage, when William, 2nd Baron of Stourton in Wiltshire married Margaret, daughter of Sir John Chidiock and his wife, Catherine. It was at this point that the village name became Stourton Caundell. Fast forward several generations and we come to William, 7th Lord Stourton, who became heir to the Stourton Estate in 1535 at age of 30. They were troubled times in that in 1532, the Pope refused to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and this resulted in a split with Rome, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the rise of Protestantism in England. Many families such as the Stourtons had practised Roman Catholicism for generations and this rift subsequently resulted in conflict.

For our village, things seem to have taken a turn for the worst in 1543, when William, Lord Stourton purchased the Manor of Kilmington from the Crown. Previously it had belonged to the monastery of Shaftesbury and had been leased by William Hartgill, who was a local landowner and later a Member of Parliament, but who with Protestant leanings became steward to William, dealing on his behalf with many financial matters. Lord Stourton was often away supporting the Crown’s military escapades, e.g. in the Borders and in France. It did not help that William was not on good terms with his wife or eldest son, Charles. In 1546 William was appointed deputy of ‘Newhaven’ (now Le Havre in France) and the same year he wrote to Hartgill complaining of the latter’s misdoings in his absence – Hartgill may have also ‘befriended’ William’s wife in his absence in that William died in early 1548 whilst overseas in Newhaven. In his will, he bequeathed most of his assets to his mistress Agnes Rice, and only by facing legal proceedings did his son, Charles now 8th Baron Stourton, acquire his rightful inheritance when aged about 27.

Over time, Hartgill’s actions seem to have alienated Charles from his widowed mother, and a feud developed between Charles and Hartgill and his son, John, with Charles falling foul of the law on several occasions. His mother appears to have started spending more time with William Hartgill not so long after Charles’ father had died, and Charles was concerned they might marry and tried to set in place a legal constraint to this. As time passed the feud intensified.

Eventually in 1557 Charles’ belligerent behaviour led to him being fined by the Star Chamber, imprisoned in the Fleet (for a second time), and ordered to pay damages to the Hartgills. He obtained a licence for his release on the pretence that he would retire to his house in the country, namely our ‘Castle’ in Stourton Caundle, where his wife Anne and six young children were domiciled (the large house on the Stourton estate being rented out at that time). Within a few days of his return home, he had written to the Hartgills on the pretext that he was ready to pay them the sums of money as ordered by the Star Chamber, and to end all disputes between them. They agreed to meet at Kilmington Church on 11th January and whilst pretending to hand over the monies, some 10 or 12 of Stourton’s men overpowered the two Hartgills and took them captive first holding them at the parsonage there, but later having them transported to a house at Bonham. To cut a long story short the two men were murdered under instructions from Lord Stourton and although their bodies were buried in a dungeon at Bonham, they were eventually discovered and Stourton and four of his men were found guilty of the double murder.

Lord Stourton was held in the Tower of London before being transported to Salisbury, where on the 16th March 1557 he was executed in the market place by hanging with a silken cord in recognition of his elevated status as a peer. It is a matter of folklore that Queen Mary actually pardoned Lord Stourton and that the letter containing pardon was delivered to Wilton House the evening before his day of execution but never reached Salisbury! As further retribution, the whole of his estates reverted to the Crown.

As you can imagine, Lady Stourton would have been totally distraught as she found herself living in the fortified manor house in our village with her three sons and three daughters and no husband. The Castle was in effect a ‘jointure’ house and estate where she had the right to remain for the rest of her life but she had lost most of her wealth. She petitioned Queen Mary, writing a letter in which she made various requests and lastly pointed out that “her jointer is ruynous, and standing in most corrupt heire, and the demeanes therof is all sett out for lyves, so that she hath no other howse to dwell and bring up her children in.”

Up until the death of Charles, Lord Stourton the family had been steadily increasing in influence, wealth and importance. But with his execution, his infant son, John succeeded to a sadly diminished inheritance and the House of Stourton suffered from misfortune and persecution for many generations thereafter. Stourton Caundle was no less a victim.

I have discovered in the National Archives that in 1560, Stourton Manor in Wiltshire was the subject of a bond of £20 paid by Thomas Hartgill of Brewham promising Lady Stourton not to hunt within the manor park over the next 10 years. Also, by August 1560 Lady Stourton had married Sir John Arundell, who lived at Lanherne, Cornwall but whose nephew, Matthew lived at Wardour Castle. In Part 1 of this account of our ‘Castle’ I referred to the similarities between the size and layout with that of Wardour Castle – so we can speculate that Anne may have vacated our Castle owing to its ruinous state in 1557 (or soon after) and moved to Wardour, where she would have encountered her husband-to-be, Matthew’s uncle, Sir John. As a strange coincidence, Matthew’s own father, Sir Thomas Arundell had been beheaded in 1552 for conspiring to overthrow the government! So the two families, the Stourtons and the Arundells had something in common in the manner they both had fallen on bad times. Anne and her new husband, Sir John went on to live in Cornwall and have eight children of their own. Whilst in 1575, a petition to Queen Elizabeth resulted in much of the estate being regained by the Stourton family.

So what must have happened to our Castle?

We know that it was in a poor state of repair in 1557 and that it does not feature on the oldest map of the village (1564), and that Lady Stourton will have abandoned it to live elsewhere with her many children, most likely at Wardour Castle. Having had most of her assets ‘escheated’ by the Crown, and being a single parent with six children, she was short of money and so in all probability she would have sold our Castle for its stone, etc., all of which would have been transported far afield for use in building. The oldest stone-built house in the village is thought to be Gwyers constructed in about 1602. Whether some part of Manor Farm predates this is uncertain but there seems little by way of large stone blocks evident anywhere. The evidence all points to our Castle being sold for its stone around 1558-9. Maybe the demolished castle has left its imprint in the subsoil in the field known as Court Barton?

Now there’s a challenge!

Richard Miles

Charles_Stourton_signature.jpg Charles Stourton’s signature