The Stourton Family

Sir John Chideock, who died in 1450, was the last of the Manorial Lords to live in the Castle. When the Manor passed to the Stourton family in 1461 it became a “removing house”, or a “jointure house”, for Dowager widows of the family. The member of this family who had the closest personal connections with the village was Lady Agnes, wife of Edward Lord Stourton, Lord of the Manor from 1523 to 1535. Before her marriage she was Agnes Fontleroy of Caundle Marsh (Font le Roi Farm) and after her husband’s death she resided for many years in the castle, which had become the family dower house. There is uncertainty over her place of burial. However in addition to her joint tomb, surmounted by effigies of her husband and herself, in the family church at Stourton, Wiltshire, there was at one time either a tomb, or a heart tomb, of alabaster dedicated to her memory in St Peters Church at Stourton Caundle. A window nearby displayed her Coat of Arms. She had four sons and one daughter. The date of her death, although not recorded, would have occurred in about 1570.

Charles Stourton was the son of William the 7th Lord Stourton, who had been given eight manors, including Stourton Caundle, Purse Caundle and Hinton St Mary in Dorset, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Charles Stourton, despite being Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset, was so dissolute and extravagant that he earned the nickname, ‘the wicked nobleman’ His father had died in 1548, leaving a Will in which his mistress, Agnes Rice, was a main beneficiary. His father’s steward, William Hartgill, contested the Will and Charles Stourton swore vengeance on the steward of the Stourton Estate, who was trying to protect it from William’s worst excesses. Agnes appears to have continued living at the Manor of Stourton, supported by Hartgill, until she married c.1553. Charles married Lady Anne Stanley in 1549. Charles and his wife, who bore him 6 children within as many years, would have often lived at the ‘castle’, a large fortified manor house located on the northern side of the Caundle Brook at Manor Farm.

Writs were issued by various interested parties, in an effort to resolve disputes over the Will. 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 owned by the Stourhead Estate. On 12th January 1556, Charles’ men dispossessed Hartgill of land and property with disputed ownership, in the Manor of Kilmington. By August 1556, Hartgill had organised a summons that Stourton’s men were to appear in court at Frome to answer charges. Hartgill claimed damages of 300 marks (£368) and Lord Stourton appeared before the Council of St. James’s, Westminster, on 29th December, having been temporarily held in The Fleet, a debtors’ prison. He secured his release on a bond of £2,000, to enable him to travel back home to arrange payment of the debt. He left London, 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 11th January at 10am.

Charles Stourton arrived at the agreed date and time, 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 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 around 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, working 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.

Charles Stourton, and four of his men, were apprehended and brought to trial in London on 26th 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 the 6th March 1557.

At this time, committing a capital crime resulted in the murderer forfeiting not only his life, but also ownership of all his land and property, which reverted to the Crown. Anne sent a letter to Mary I, pleading for compassion and permission to retain ownership of Stourton House and the fortified house or ‘castle’ in Stourton Caundle. This, she reported, was her only dwelling house and that it was in a “ruynous” and “corrupt” state. The response came in a letter from Greenwich, dated 20th April 1557, stating that Lady Stourton would be allowed 10 days to obtain and handover monies to the estimated value of the property she was seeking to retain ownership of.

1840 Tithe Map