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Title :Historic Spots in Wiltshire (Pages 86 – 94 Corsham Court)
Author :William Michael
Book Type :General History and Topography
Publisher :Michael & Co.
Date :1901
Full Text :Corsham Court.
The antiquary Leland, who, on the authority of a Royal Commission from Henry VIII. travelled through England in search of antiquities, and visited Wiltshire about the year 1540, thus describes Corsham:-

"I left Chippenham," he says, "a mile on the lifte hand, and so went to Alington village about a mile of, and thens 3 milest to Cosham, a good uplandish town, wher be ruines of an old maner place: and therby a park wont to be yn dowage to the Quenes of Englande. Mr. Baynton, yn Quene Annes dayes, pullid down by licens a peace of-this house somewhat to help his buildinges at Bromham."

"Old Mr. Bonhome [This must have been John Bonham, Esq., of Haselbury, in the parish of Box, who was living in 1541] told me that Coseham apperteinid to the erldom of Cornwalle, and that Cosham was a mansion place longging to it, wher sumtyme they lay."

"Al the menne of this tounlet were bond: so that upon a tyme one of the Erles of Cornwalle hering them secretely to lament their state manumittid them for mony, and gave them the lordship of Cosham in copiehold to paie a chiefe rente."

Corsham was a manor both of the Saxon and early Norman Kings. From Domesday Book we learn that it had belonged in the time of Edward the Confessor, to Tosti, Earl of Northumberland, but was then held by the Conqueror, who gave the Church and two hides of land to the Abbey of St. Stephen at Caen, which he had founded about the year 1064. The King's manor was worth about 30 pounds, and the Rectory manor seven pounds.

King John gave Corsham to his second son, Richard Plantagenet, Earl of Cornwall, King of the Romans and Almaine, and to the heirs of his body by Sanchia his wife, which confirms Leland's account as related to him by "old Mr. Bonham." The royal tenants here held their lands at that time by certain debasing services, from which the Earl relieved them by a Deed still preserved, together with several royal recognitions of it, in a chest in the parish church, in charge of the Bailiff and two Homagers. This deed which bears the Earl's great seal, grants to the tenants the lands in fee farm, free of those services, paying annually to the Lord 110 marks. From that time they have chosen their own Bailiff yearly, who is vested with the powers of Sheriff and Coroner within the manor, and enjoys several other important privileges.

Richard, Earl of Cornwall, died in 1271, and his son Edmund, obtained the right of a market for his tenants at Corsham in the 13th year of Edward I. (1285), and it formerly flourished with the woollen manufactory; this latter Earl dying without issue, Corsham reverted to the Crown, and was settled by Edward I. (together with other manors) on his daughter Mary, then a nun at Amesbury. Edward II. subsequently granted it to his favourite, Piers Gaveston. In 1358, Edward III. and his Queen spent the summer at Marlborough and Corsham. The latter manor was afterwards settled by this King on his daughter Isabella, who married Ingelram de Courcy (created Earl of Bedford), one of the French hostages detained in England after the battle of Poictiers.

Afterwards it formed part of the dowry of several Queens of England. Queen Anne, mentioned by Leland, was probably Anne Boleyn, and the manor house being then in ruins, part of its materials were granted by the Queen to Sir Edward Baynton, and used by him (together with some of the ruins of Devizes Castle) in the erection of Old Bromham House, which was burnt during the Civil Wars.

In the 14th year of Queen Elizabeth (1572), Sir Christopher Hatton received a grant of the lands called Corsham Parks. In 1575, the manor was sold to Thomas Smyth, who, from being Farmer of the Customs, obtained the name of "Customer Smyth." He was son of John Smyth of Corsham, by Jane, daughter of Robert Brounker, of Melksham, and ancestor of Lord Strangford.

"The great house at Corsham," says Aubrey, "was built by Customer Smythe: he rented the customes then of Queen Elizabeth for twenty thousand pounds per annum. This yeare, 1674, was made of the customs £120,000.

This brings us to the oldest part of the present mansion at Corsham. A stone inserted over the great door in the south front still bears the date of 1582, and distinctly points out the work of "Customer Smyth." He married a daughter of Sir Andrew Judde, Lord Mayor of London, and afterwards removed to Ostenhanger in Kent, leaving Corsham to his third son Henry, by whom it was sold in 1602 to Edward Hungerford, of Rowden, (afterwards Sir Edward Hungerford of Farley Castle) in whose family it remained until 1684, when it passed by sale into the hands of Richard Kent, Esq., Member of Parliament for Chippenham. A few years later it was sold to Richard Lewis, Esq., of Edington Priory, whose son again sold it into the family of Thynne. In 1719 it was purchased by Mr. Joseph Styles, who left it by will to his brother, Benjamin Haskins Styles, from whom it passed to a nephew Francis, son of Sir John Eyles; and from this family it was eventually purchased in 1746 by Paul Methuen, Esq., great grandfather of the present owner.

THE METHUEN FAMILY may be traced back as settlers in Scotland for no less than seven centuries. Malcolm III., King of Scotland, is said to have bestowed the Barony of Methven in Perthshire on the first settler from Germany, as an acknowledgement of services rendered to the Princess Margaret, afterwards his Queen. The present noble owner of Corsham traces an uninterrupted descent from Patrick de Methven, who was living about 1260, and whose son Sir Roger married for his first wife Malise, Countess of Strathern.

About the middle of the 16th century, John de Methuen, a zealous promoter of the Reformation, fled from Scotland into England to avoid the persecution of the times, and was kindly received by Queen Elizabeth, who took his eldest son Paul under her special protection. He was presented to a stall in Wells Cathedral, and to other preferments in the county of Somerset. He married into the family of Rogers of Cannington in that county, and thus probably became possessed of property in Bradford-on- Avon, where his grandson Paul Methuen, one of the great clothiers of his day, introduced weavers from Holland, and materially improved both the manufactures and trade of that town. He died in 1667, leaving several sons, the eldest of whom, John Methuen, of Bishops Cannings, was M.P. for Devizes, one of the Privy Council and Lord Chancellor of Ireland, in the reigns of William III. and Queen Anne. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, in 1706.

His son, Sir Paul Methuen, K.B., was a diplomatist, even more distinguished than his father. He was for some years Ambassador at Madrid, and at various times envoy to the Emperor of Morocco, and the Duke of Savoy. After having filled several high offices he became, in 1716, principal Secretary of State, in 1720, Comptroller of the King's Household, and in 1725, Treasurer of the Household, which latter office he subsequently resigned and passed the remainder of his life in a private station. Of his great taste for the fine arts we have abundant evidence in the costly collection of pictures now in Corsham Court ­ the only one made at that period which has continued perfect to the present time. He died unmarried, in 1757, at the age of 85, and bequeathed his valuable collection of pictures, as well as considerable estates to Paul (the son of his first cousin Thomas Methuen), the purchaser of Corsham.

We now come to the last four generations of this branch who have been successive owners of Corsham :-

PAUL METHUEN, ESQ. (the purchaser in 1747). He was the eldest son of Thomas, by Ann, daughter of Isaac Selfe, of Beanacre, near Melksham, by Penelope, daughter and co-heir of Charles Lord Lucas. He was great grandson of Paul, the great clothier, of Bradford, and first cousin of Sir Paul Methuen, K.B., above mentioned. He was M.P. for Warwick, and Great Bedwyn, and married Christian, daughter and co-heir of Sir George Cobb, Bart, of Adderbury, by whom he had issue two sons and a daughter. During his ownership of Corsham, the former mansion was considerably enlarged, the addition being principally on the eastern side; and the pleasure grounds newly laid out, both under the direction of Launcelot Brown. Part of the collection of pictures bequeathed by Sir Paul were removed by him from his town house in Grosvenor Street, to Corsham, where it was his intention to have concentrated and arranged the whole, but the completion of this was reserved for his eldest son,

PAUL COBB METHUEN, ESQ., who married Matilda, daughter of Sir Thomas Gooch, Bart. He was M.P. for Great Bedwyn, and again considerably enlarged the mansion at Corsham, the addition of this date being on the north side, and from the designs of John Nash. The park and pleasure grounds he also greatly improved under the direction of Mr. Repton. He had issue ten children, the eldest son of whom

PAUL METHUEN, ESQ., was M.P. for Wilts, and created Baron Methuen, in 1838. He married Jane Dorothea, daughter of Sir Henry Paulet St. John Mildmay, Bart., whose second son, FREDERICK HENRY PAUL, 2nd Baron Methuen, is the present owner or Corsham. In 1884, the north front of the mansion was again taken down and re-built from the designs of Mr. Bellamy.

Corsham Court adjoins the north-east end of the town, and is near the ancient Parish Church, which stands almost close to it on the south-east side. The adjoining park, though not extensive, consists entirely of level ground, and afford some fine views, and a frequent recurrence of the pleasing scenery, which brings to mind the landscape of Poussin. The house is open for public inspection two days in the week-Tuesday and Friday. The apartments shown are the grand hall (which occupies nearly the entire centre of the ancient Elizabethan mansion), the state dressing room, state bed chamber (both included in one of the wings of the ancient building), and the cabinet room, picture gallery, music room, drawing room, and dining room (all added early in the present century). These contains the collection of choice pictures, among which may be noticed:-

The Deity with Angels, by Albano, with silver frame, made by the famous statuary Alessandro Algardi; The Angel conducting Tobias to Media, by M. Angelo; Jupiter and Ganymede, by M. Angelo Buonarotti; Our Saviour and the woman taken in Adultery, by Axaretto; Our Saviour and Nicodemus, Our Saviour and the woman of Samaria, the marriage of St. Catherine, and the head of St. James, by Guercino; the Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds, the Last Supper, Our Saviour crowned with Thorns, and others, by G. Bassan; the flight into Egypt, by Beinaschi; several Battle pieces, by Borgognone; St. Peter, a Magdalen, and Sir Charles Baromeus visiting the sick in time of a plague at Milan, by Brandi; Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch (a remarkably fine picture), by John Both; a Dutch Fair, by Old Brueghel; and a small pair of Landscapes and Figures on copper by his son J. Brueghel; St. John with two Doctors or the Church, by Denis Calvart.

Those of the Caracci School include, Omphale the mistress of Hercules (a picture of considerable merit); a Boy blowing Bubbles; a Dead Christ with the Virgin and St. John; an Ecce Homo; and the Virgin with our Saviour and Saints.

A Portrait of the Duchess of Mantua, with her son (the last duke) in her lap and allegorical figures, is from the pencil of B. Castiglione, a pupil of Vandyck; and another picture by the same artist represents Animals entering the Ark. There are also a Virgin and Child by Cignani; a pair of Landscapes "Morning" and "Evening" (both of which have been engraved) by Claude; Susanna and the Elders; by Chiari; a female Saint kneeling with two children and angels, Tancred and Erminia, and the Continence of Scipio, by Cortona; a Man's head, by Corregio; portrait of Thomas Killegrew, [This gentleman, who had been page of honour to Charles I., was appointed by the second Charles, gentleman of the royal bed chamber as well as envoy at Venice. He is commonly called that Monarch's jester; and as his situation gave him peculiar privileges of speech, he frequently exercised them in reproving his royal master's licentious conduct. He wrote eleven plays. He died in 1682, and was interred in Westminister Abbey Church] commonly known as Charles the Second's jester by Dobson, an artist called by Charles I, the English Tintoret; Mary Magdalen anointing our Saviour's feet, Our Saviour breaking bread, a Guardian Angel bearing a female infant to Heaven, and a portrait of St. Bruno (founder of the Carthusians), by Carlo Dolce; the Martyrdom of St. Stephen, by Domenichino, copied from A. Caracci; the Nativity, and the Adoration of the Magi, by Albert Durer.

The Death of Procris, and the Shipwreck of St. Paul at Melita, two small Paintings on copper, by Adam Elsheimer, are fine specimens of the exquisite finish bestowed by this artist on his works. A memorandum engraved on the back of the latter picture states that it "cost 1000 doubloons at Antwerp."

A picture of the Virgin and Child with St. Joseph and St. Catherine, is painted by Van Eyck; the Marriage of Jacob, by Ciro Ferri; Herodias with the head of St. John Baptist, the Marriage of Cana, and two large and very spirited Battle Pieces, are by Giordano; Vulcan at his forge, and a Bacchanal with Silenus and Satyrs, by Jordæns; the Baptism of Our Saviour, the Virgin with our Saviour and Saints, and two small heads (one called St. Sebastian), by Guido; a Portrait by Sir Bryan Tuke, treasurer of the chambers to Henry VIII. by Holbein; a Portrait of Sir Paul Rycaut, and a larger painting of the artist and his family in his musical concert, are both by Sir Peter Lely; Lot and his Daughters, by Lotto: Virgin and Child, and head of a Dominican Friar, by Lanfranc; the Flight into Egypt, and St. Sebastian with other Saints, by Filippo Lauri.

Two paintings, by Mabuse, represent, one Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby, daughter and heir of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, and mother of Henry VII; the other, Henry VIIth's. three children, Arthur, Prince of Wales, Henry (afterwards Henry VIII). then three years old, and Margaret, who married the King of Scotland. They are represented dressed in black and playing with fruit on a table covered with green cloth. This picture has been engraved by Vertue.

There is also a Portrait of Mary Magdalen, by Quintin Matsys, known as the Blacksmith of Antwerp, having followed that profession in his earlier days; Our Saviour in the Garden, by Malesso, and artist of whose history little or nothing seems to be known; the death of Sir Francis Kavire on the coast of China, by Maratti; St. John in the desert, and others, by Mola; a Head, by Antonio More; the Virgin and Child in the Clouds, by Murillo; the interior of a Church by torch light, with a procession, by Peter Neefs; several Groups, with Dutch Boors, by Ostade; the Holy Family and the Nativity, by old and young Palma; the Annunciation, by Perugino; Nymphs Bathing, by Poelemberg; Our Saviour meditating on the sins of the world, by Pordenone; Eudamidas making his Will, and several Landscapes, by N. Poussin; also a Landscape, by G. Poussin; two Battle Pieces, by Pandolfo Reschi; Cupid straining his Bow, and an extremely fine picture, representing the Virgin and Child, St. John Baptist, St. Joseph and St. Anne, by Parmigiano; the Nativity, by Pasqualino; a Portrait of an Astrologer, by Penni.

Rubens is represented here by several fine paintings. The Descent from the Cross is the original sketch for the large picture at Antwerp; Rubens and his Family hunting, is the joint production of this artist and Snyders; other pictures by Rubens are a Portrait of a Man in a Ruff, David and Abigail, Bacchanals (in two colors), and a Satyr squeezing Grapes with a Tiger and Leopard, a very choice production.

Queen Anne's Nurse (a small portrait), is by John Riley, an English artist employed by Charles II. and appointed Royal painter by William and Mary after the Revolution. St. Lawrence on the Gridiron, a Portrait of Masaniello, and a pair of Landscapes are by Salvator Rosa; a Virgin and Child, by Raphael; a Turk's Head, (a fine production), and a Girl with a Dog asleep in her arms, by Rembrandt; St. John in the Desert, and the head of a Young Man by A del Sarto; several by Teniers; a Virgin and Child, by Schidone; St. Peter and several others, by Spagnoletto; the Battle of Eckerbert, by Strada; Portrait of Cosmo, the last Duke of Florence, by Subtermans; David and Solomon, and St. Mark and St. John in consultation on their writings, by Strozzi; a Naked Boy blowing bubbles, and treading on a skull, representing vanity, by Elizabeth Sirani; David with the Head of Goliath by Spado; the Descent from the, Cross (a small painting on marble), by Tiarini; the Nativity, the Crucifixion, and the Last Supper, by Tintoretto.

Of the works of Vandyck, there are the murder of the Innocents; the Betrayal, by Judas (painted for his master Rubens); Charity and three Children (a very fine picture); the Virgin and Child in the Clouds, with five Saints; St. Augustine in an ecstacy, contemplating the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and the Incarnation of Our Saviour (a highly finished sketch in two colours of the finest picture he ever painted now in the Louvre at Paris); a Portrait of himself; another of Charles Lewis, Elector Palatine of the Rhine; a half length of Ann Carr, Countess of Bedford; a Head of Lord Bernard Stuart, afterwards Earl of Lichfield, and a fine whole length portrait of James Stuart, Duke of Richmond and Lenox, a sincere friend of Charles I.

There are several Battle Pieces, by Vandervelde; the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, Portrait of Hernando Cortez, a Magdalen meditating on a skull and an emblematical picture representing the virtues and duties belonging to a good Christian, by Titian; the Murder of the Innocents, by Turchi; Portrait of Pope Innocent X., by Velasquez; the Holy Family, Judith preparing to cut off Holofernes' head, Judith going out of the city to Holofernes' tent, Holofernes entertaining Judith at a feast, Judith reproving the Governors of the city, Judith presented to Holofernes, the Night of the Assyrian Army, the Annunciation, and Venus dressing with Cupid holding her looking glass, by Paul Veronese; a Head, supposed by Leonardo da Vinci; Hawking, and Stag Hunting, by Wouvermans.

In the Dining Room is a large Painting, representing Dogs and Foxes, by Snyders; also two large Paintings, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, representing some youthful members of the Methuen family,

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



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