Friday, 9 September 2011

Nocton Hall - Revelations of an Imp - Chapter 4

The Wymbishes

260 years had elapsed since Norman D'Arcy had taken over the Hall and estates at Nocton. Fortune had blessed each D'Arcy in his turn, with a son and heir to carry the family Coat of Arms at Nocton Hall.

When Philip succumbed to the plague, his younger brother, John might have maintained the D'Arcy title at Nocton, but he preferred his home at Knayth which remained in the family until it was let to Richard Sutton, whose son Thomas (1532-1611) born at Knayth, later founded Charterhouse School.

Nocton would remain in the family but this larger estate was divided equally between his two nieces, Julianna and Agnes. Both ladies had made successful marriages - Julianna had become the wife of Sir John De Lymbury and Agnes, the wife of Sir Roger De Pedwardine. In both unions, their respective husbands were large land owners with a choice of manors and halls in which to live when it was necessary to administer their estates in the different counties.

Julianna kept he genealogical tree well nourished. Her son and daughter widened the family interests. Elizabeth , Julianna's grand daughter, both beautiful and wealthy, enjoyed her life with three husbands, the second of which, bearing the Clinton Coat of Arms, assured her blood heritage into the 20th century. Likewise, Agnes added such historical names as Hilton, Pierpont and Ingleby to her family tree.

Sadly, Nocton was to suffer with the good fortune of the ladies. The divided estate was of insufficient interest to run successfully, and with the difficulties of travel and communication their husbands were more interested in their own land rather than the continued success of their Nocton inheritance through their wives.

Two descendants of Julianna, almost a century after her death, brought colour to the Nocton saga. The first in the figure of Sir Nicholas Wymbishe in the fifteenth century. In contrast with the great soldiers of his forebears at Nocton Hall, Sir Nicholas was the first Lord of the Manor to be a Priest. Great grandson of Sir John De Lymbury he, as second son of Thomas Wymbishe, Sheriff of Lincolnshire, had inherited a much reduced Nocton homeland. He had been brought up for the priesthood, the custom of a younger son of that time, but he also added law to his professional accomplishments and in this field was so successful that he became Master in Chancery from 1433-1450, a period of 17 years. Even in those distant times, the legal profession reaped the financial rewards achieved in later years, with the result that Sir Nicholas became a wealthy man and property owner of considerable merit in the City of London.

His lack of estate experience was compensated by his high academic knowledge in both theology and law. Although much of his early career in the legal profession kept him confined to the City of London, he retained a great love for Nocton. During his frequent visits to his Lincolnshire estate, he soon realised the administration of the Nocton land was such, that his annual income of £16 was all that the estate in its rundown condition, could manage. On a visit to Nocton Priory, he was to learn that the Prior and Monks were also in a desperate financial state and the Priory lands had been well and truly 'milked' by an unreliable foreman. Worse was to come, Sir Nicholas soon discovered his own farms not only needed money, but also the management was no better than the Priory Farm. Both needed an immediate induction of capital and replacement of honest overseers, to put the productive land back on a sound path to recovery.

Sir Nicholas soon acquired the respect of both Church and laity. The two priests on his estate had not only omitted to cover their glebe rents due to both himself and the Priory, but had taken advantage of the absence of his person to indulge in other sources of income, being deflected by the Churchmen, from their rightful recipients.

In 1453, Nicholas gave the Priory an Ale House in Chancery Lane known as the 'Harfleur Inn' an unusual gift for a Religious Order, but truly welcomed by the brethren of Nocton Priory. Such a generous gift would, today, have brought about an immediate celebration in the time honoured tradition of a 'good booze up'. History does not record the Prior's reaction. At the Dissolution, all the records of this long established house were destroyed.

Sir Nicholas, using his legal ability and Church knowledge, persuaded the Church commission at Oxford, to give him authority to redress the financial situation, and all money owed to the Priory was reclaimed and paid to the thankful Prior.

One must not pass over the accomplishments of this noble gentleman as a churchman. Sir Nicholas was appointed Archdeacon of Nottingham, then in the York Diocese, a Canon of Lincoln with his selection for the Prebendary of Bole, when he was installed to this Office in York Minster on 29th June 1444.

Before Nicholas died in 1461, his personal estate at Nocton and the Priory Farm were recovering from the years of neglect. His nephew, Thomas, inherited the much revived house and lands which his uncle had worked so hard to restore, and with the additional generosity of Sir Christopher De Pedwardine, a descendant of Agnes, he received the other half of the original Nocton estate as it was in the time of Philip D'Arcy.

Sir Thomas Wymbishe continued the Nocton recovery and quickly acquired a reputation for good commercial management. His work was recognised by the county and in 1475, became High Sheriff. Two years later, he became Mayor of Lincoln. On his death, the estate was again broken up to provide for his three sons. John came to Nocton Hall, Nicholas, to Blankney and Thomas to Metheringham. John maintained his Father's interest in the City of Lincoln, as well as supervising his Nocton land until his death in 1526. His son Christopher, outlived his Father by four years, before his son Thomas inherited Nocton at the early age of 9 years.

If we take a quick glance into the crystal ball, we can see his future father-in-law had been created Lord Tailboys of Kyme. As a young boy, he never realised that sometime in his early life, the large estates of Kyme, near Sleaford, would fall into his hands.

At the age of 17, he was already head over heels in love with Elizabeth Tailboys whose brother, George, now Lord Tailboys, administered his parents' estates. When only 20, Thomas succeeded in his courtship and Elizabeth, at the tender age of 19 married her lover. A year later, Elizabeth's brother, George, died, leaving his sister a Baroness in her own right with possession of several thousand acres of land, together with her brother's impressive mansion. A love story is always news, especially at the top end of society. The Court in London soon circulated the romance and inevitably, King Henry VIII intercepted the whisper that young Sir Thomas Wymbishe had made a fine catch. All stories carry an element of exaggeration to embellish the truth. Henry's curiosity was aroused. Why had such a beautiful lady avoided the call to Court? The Monarch's passion demanded that his advisors surrounded him with attractive wenches, and he wanted to see for himself whether his administrators had fallen down on the job and neglected their responsible task. Henry mentally computerised an early call on Thomas Wymbishe as soon as opportunity presented a convenient meeting.

On 10th October 1541, the clatter of horses feet resounded on the dusty roads through the quiet village of Nocton, bringing the inhabitants to their doors. Four riders, well mounted and bearing the Royal Coat of Arms across their doublets, galloped through Nocton heading for the Hall. Village groups quickly formed. Speculation mixed with exaggeration proved a potent stimulant, and was not confined to the local cottages. The news spread. 'Was Sir Thomas in trouble?' 'Perhaps he was for the Tower' 'Oh' Poor Lad, and he only just married'. A sympathetic crowd exchanged thoughts on the meaning of such an unusual event. At the Hall, Sir Thomas was to learn that he had just three short days to prepare for the arrival of his Monarch, accompanied by Katherine Howard, the King's fifth wife.

The Royal train had made the long journey to York to attend a State Meeting. Henry, with his advisers, supported by a strong force of Northern Barons, Lord Thomas D'Arcy, the Earl of Westmoreland, Lord D'Acres, Lord Neville, Lord Strange, Lord Latymer, Lord Conyers and the Percy's of Bowness, had hoped to restore peace across the border, but the Scottish noblemen who had come to York had been unreceptive to such overtures - the memory of Flodden remained an open wound which 28 years had not healed. The Meeting made no headway, achieved no agreements and it was clear to Henry's advisers that they must retain an ever watchful eye on the North.

The return south, for the King and his Court, was a journey none of them relished. The days were drawing in and the weather unsettled. London was at least a 12 day journey.

On 13th October 1541, the Royal travellers arrived at Nocton Hall in the early afternoon. Thomas and Elizabeth, with the help of the village and estate, had made good use of the three days. Lady Wymbishe persuaded Katherine Howard to plant a chestnut tree adjacent to the Hall to mark this Royal occasion.The King approved of the Nocton welcome and from the corner of his eye, he also approved in every sense of Elizabeth Wymbishe, nee Tailboys.

The feasting and joviality went well. The Monarch, already enchanted by his hostess, forgot the setback at York and entered into the celebrations with his customary zest. The wine flowed, accompanied by a never ending presentation of palatable and well decorated dishes. The Hall dogs ate greedily, enjoying the bombardment of pheasant, partridge wings, and legs, discarded by those feasting at such a sumptuous table.

Elizabeth had time to confide her personal troubles into a most sympathetic ear, so much so, that when Thomas asked the King permission to bear his wife's titles, he was curtly informed by Henry that on the birth of a child, his request would be granted. Thomas was not to fulfil the King's wish. His wife's wealth, coupled to his estate at Nocton, had already had a heady effect on so young a man - wine, women and song, became the major ingredient motivating his style of life which ended abruptly in 1552 when he died without issue.

His early death at the age of 31 was fortunate for Nocton's finances. It took another 12 years to repay the creditors he had built up in so short a carefree existence. Not until 1564 were his debts finally cleared, and the Nocton estate was free from entailment.

Elizabeth, his widow was soon to accept the King's invitation to join the ladies at Hampton Court. Lord Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick and brother of the future Earl of Leicester, was entranced by Lady Elizabeth Wymbishe. The King approved the match and quickly told her that her second husband would chase her around his Castle and give her full contentment with a fine family!

After her marriage, Elizabeth, who still held Nocton dear in her heart released all claim, not only to Nocton, but her own estates at Kyme, which now passed to her sister-in-law, Frances, the wife of Sir Richard Towneley. Added to his wife's vast Lincolnshire estates, was Richard's own estate in Lancashire, which Frances knew well, having met Richard on one of her visits while staying with her uncle, Sir Conyers D'Arcy, at his home in the Deanery of Craven. The future of Nocton was assured and remained in the Towneley family for the next 130 years.The fate of Nocton Park Priory came well before Frances had accepted her inheritance from her brother Thomas. As early as 30th July 1534, the Prior had to acknowledge the King's supremacy which concluded the religious life of the lay established order. The final act was taken by Thomas Hornell, the Prior, Johannes Treeve, sub-prior, supported by two monks, Jacobus Parke and Thomas Wyffyn. The seal of the Priory, taken from the document which completed the legal declaration accepting the final closure, is today in the Public Record Office.

The income of the Priory at its close, stood at £87 well below the level of £200 annual income required by King Henry. The Prior and his canons received a small pension, and it is possible that these four also continued in Church activity in the neighbouring parishes.

The Priory and land amounting to 300 acres was given by King Henry to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, grandfather of Lady Jane, Catherine and Mary Grey. The former was married on the 21st May 1553 to Lord Guildford Dudley, fourth son of the Duke of Northumberland, his second son, the Earl of Warwick, having married Elizabeth, widow of Thomas Wymbishe.

The tragic fate of Lady Jane and Guildford Dudley reached its conclusion in the Tower where they were executed in 1554 when Jane was only 16 years old. By the time of Jane's death, she and her sister had inherited the Nocton Priory lands, under the trusteeship of the Earl of Derby.

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