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Chapter TitleNotes

Wootton Bassett

Title :Fasterne ( Pages 176 - 179)
Author :Canon J. E. Jackson
Book Type :General History and Topography
Publisher :Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society
Date :
Journal :WAM Vol. 23

One meets all over the county with country houses, that are now converted into farm-houses, or sometimes divided into labourers cottages, but which were once occupied by gentry or nobility, perhaps even by royalty. One of these is Fasterne, a mile or so from Wootton Basset. There is nothing now very striking in its appearance, but it becomes interesting when we know its history. It was once the chief residence, the manor-house, of the Despensers, the well-known favorites of Edward II., in the middle of their large property here. The fall of these omnipotent noblemen was owing to the French Lady Isabella, King Edward's wife. Being brought over to be Queen of England, she determined to be a Queen, and would never rest till she had got those two out of her way, which she accomplished at last by promoting them to a gallows 50ft. high. After their execution all kinds of complaints against them for arbitrary acts of violence poured in from the neighbourhood. One Henry of Hook, near Lydiard, had refused to give up his right to some land, whereupon he had been seized, shut up in a dungeon at Fasterne, and kept there a whole week till he consented. On the other hand, the heir of the Despensers had his grievances to report. He complained that Fasterne had been invaded violently by his father's enemies, naming men of the Audley, Berkeley, and Clifford families. They had rifled the house and inmates, carried off the furniture, arms, armour, &c.; had taken the rents from the tenants, broken up the park, killed the deer, and caught the fish; total damages estimated at 30,000. Also that they had forced their way into Stanley Abbey, near Chippenham, and carried off Hugh Despenser's strong boxes, deposited there for safety, containing his deeds, plate, and money. That they had done the same to his castle at Marlborough, where the plunder consisted of books, vestments, sacramental cups, crosses of gold, tapestry, and other things, to the value of 6000. The heirs, however, of the Despensers, did not succeed in recovering the lands that had been forfeited to the Crown. They were bestowed upon Edmund of Langley, fifth son of King Edward III. Fasterne was then held by his son, Edward, Duke of York, who was killed at the Battle of Agincourt, and some time after that it became dower land to the Queens of England. Katharine Parr, widow of Henry VIII., had it, and leased it to Sir Henry Long, of Draycote. [Restrospective Review, vol. i., 208. Vol. XXIII.- NO. LXVIII.] Katharine had re-married Sir Thomas Seymour, brother of Protector Somerset. The Protector coveted Fasterne, and negotiated with Sir Henry Long to resign his lease. Katharine Parr, when she heard of this was highly indignant. She happened to be on very bad terms with the Protector, because he kept back from her some valuable jewels which, as she maintained, King Henry had given her for her own. She vowed she would stop this Fasterne Lease job, and would go herself "tomorrow, Saturday, at three o'clock" to the young King Edward, and give full utterance to her feelings against the Protector his uncle. But the uncle-Protector of the realm was rather a formidable person to be meddled with. Whether she kept her promise, and how far she succeeded in getting the diamonds, my authority does not say; but Somerset certainly succeeded in getting Fasterne. Sir Henry Long somewhat unwillingly parted with it for a sum of money and the office of Ranger of Braden Forest for his life.
In the reign of Queen Mary Fasterne and Wootton Manor were bestowed by her upon one of her most zealous supporters, Sir Francis Englefield. He belonged to an old and distinguished Roman Catholic family of Englefield House, near Reading. As a compliment, he had been knighted at the coronation of Edward VI., when forty Knights of the Bath were created, and fifty-four others who were called Knights of the Carpet. I do not know exactly what that means, unless it is that they were a kind of ornamental knights, to dance attendance at Court, or of those butterfly marquises of a later reign, whose chief duty was, not to brandish a sword on horseback, but a knife and fork at the dinner-table. But Sir Francis Englefield was of a very different quality. He was a determined and thorough-going Romanist. He had been an officer in Mary's household whilst she was only Princess, and when he was charged by the Council to take to her their order, forbidding mass to be said in her house, he stoutly refused to carry the message, for which refusal he was committed to the Tower for three months. After Mary came to the throne he was present at the trial of Bishop Hooper, who was burned at Gloucester; was made Master of the Wards and one of the Queen's Privy Council. I met with a curious letter among Lord Bath's papers at Longleat, written by a Mr. Mozley, a lawyer of the Middle Temple in London, in which he says: - "Master Englefield lyeth at his house at Englefield. He continueth in great favor, and is like to increase. I have already sent forth his patent for the inheritance of Great Fasterne, and well I am at the mill to grind more good grist for him." Mr. Mozley's mill, however, soon stopped grinding, for Mary dying, Queen Elizabeth succeeded, and no more good grist for Master Englefield. He made himself obnoxious as a deadly enemy to Elizabeth, and consequently got into great trouble. "An evil custom," says Strype the historian, "prevailed in those days, of allowing great men to have a number of retainers who were not menial servants, but wore a distinctive dress, a hat or badge, and attended on special occasions. Those licenses were given to lords or gentlemen on purpose for the maintenance of quarrels, and many murders were committed by their means, and feuds kept up among the nobility and gentry." Sir Francis Englefield must either have been very fond of quarrelling, or have been exposed to some extraordinary peril, for he had a body-guard of no less than a hundred men. [Strype's Memorials, vol. iii., part ii., p. 161.] He had done all he possibly could to injure the celebrated Roger Ascham, who had been appointed by Bishop Gardiner Latin master to Elizabeth when Princess. In the life of Sir Thomas Smith, Secretary of State, Sir Francis Englefield is described as a fierce Papist, who had often cried out against Ascham as a heretic fit to be rejected and punished, but Gardiner would not hear of Ascham's removal. No wonder, then, that on Elizabeth's accession Englefield fled to Spain. He was recalled, but refused to come. His estate at Fasterne was forfeited, but the Queen declined to appropriate the rents. Englefield continued in league with malcontents abroad, especially with the Duke of Feria, who had married an English lady, but hated Elizabeth from the beginning, and stirred up Pope Pius to excommunicate her, and the King of Spain to be her enemy. Elizabeth allowed Englefield all the rents of his property, and assured him he would not be meddled with in his own country if he would merely be quiet, but the only reply he sent was in a bold letter to Dudley, Earl of Leicester, denying the Queen's right to the throne, and, in short, wholly defying her authority. In 1584 he began a more dangerous game. He entered into correspondence with Mary, Queen of Scots. The letters were intercepted by Cecil, and the contents were of so treasonable a nature that, having somehow or other, I don't exactly know how, come within reach, he was tried and executed in 1587, along with Lord Paget and Sir Francis Throckmorton. His body was carried back to Spain and buried in the College of Valladolid, to which he had been a great benefactor.
Fasterne was restored to the family, and the last Lady Englefield re-married Sir Robert Howard, who was living there in 1672. It was then bought by Lawrence Hyde, Earl of Rochester, son of Chancellor Clarendon, and continued in his representatives until sold a few years ago to the now owner, Sir Henry Meux. About the middle of the last century it was occupied by a family of the name of Franklin, and from old letters it appears that it was a favourite rendezvous for a club of friends and neighbours who used to meet every fortnight, not for croquet nor yet for tennis, but for the older game of bowls. The bowling green remains. Of the original and larger house the foundations are still visible. The walls are very thick. There is a Tudor door-way left, and in a chamber on the first-floor a stone chimney piece and fire-place surmounted by the arms of the Englefields. It is worth a visit from the passer-by, and if he happens to have heard my story and has not forgotten it, he will look upon the decayed mansion with a certain respect; and, as he turns away to leave, perhaps some thought of this kind may pass across his mind: "There are the Despensers, there are the Englefields, and here am I. Upon the whole I think that 'living dogs are better than dead lions.'"

Abbreviations used:
  • WAM Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine
  • WNQ Wiltshire Notes and Queries



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