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A Grey Day

The Grey family, originally from Northumberland, are a consistent feature of English history from the Southampton plot of 1415 to Monmouth’s rebellion nearly three centuries later.

Sir Thomas Grey (1384-1415) of Castle Heaton was a soldier and one of the three principals in the Southampton plot against Henry V, revealed to him by Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, at Portchester Castle. His connection to the House of York was that a marriage had been arranged between his son and Isabel, the (very) young daughter of Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge. The betrothal was cancelled as one of the consequences of the plot’s failure. It may have been related to Grey’s purchase of the Yorkist lordship of Tyndale. (The sale of which demonstrates how relatively hard-up the second Duke of York was at this time.)

Sir John Grey of Groby (1432-61) was the son of Edward Grey, Baron Ferrers of Groby and a grandson of the third Baron Grey of Ruthin . Married to Elizabeth Wydeville, by whom he had two sons, he fought for Henry VI at the Second Battle of St. Albans and was killed there.

 

Lady Jane Grey (1537-54) was the daughter of Henry Grey, who had become Duke of Suffolk on his marriage to Frances Brandon, Henry being Sir John’s

great-grandson. Edward VI had named Jane as his heir and her father, together with John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and Archbishop Cranmer sought to implement this on  Edward’s 1553 death, contrary to Henry VIII’s succession legislation. She married Northumberland’s son Lord Guildford Dudley and planned to create him Duke of Clarence but their coup was thwarted and the principals imprisoned. Wyatt rose in early 1554, apparently in favour of the Grey-Dudley faction, so Jane, her husband, father and father-in-law were beheaded close to the St. Albans anniversary. This “Streatham portrait” is possibly a retrospective of Jane, having been painted years after her death. She was also the great-niece of Viscount Grane, formerly Deputy of Ireland, who was beheaded in July 1541.

Ford Grey, Earl of Tankerville (1655-1701) was also Viscount Glendale and Baron Grey of Werke. As a veteran of the Rye House Plot, he escaped from the Tower and joined the Duke of Monmouth in exile before joining the Duke’s rebellion two years later. At Sedgemoor, he led the rebel cavalry but was captured, whereupon he gave evidence against his co-commanders and his attainder was reversed in 1686. Within another nine years, he was appointed to William III’s Privy Council and served in several other offices.

This genealogy connects Sir Thomas to Henry Grey Duke of Suffolk, Lady Jane Grey’s father, through his Mowbray brother-in-law. This shows Tankerville’s male line descent from Sir Thomas’ grandfather.

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The Court of Requests and Thomas Seckford

In 1484, King Richard III created a minor equity court to deal with minor disputes in equity; these are disputes where the harshness of common law would be acknowledged by those appointed by the Crown. Equity courts were mostly seen as the Lord Chancellor’s remit, and the split of the Chancery Courts from the Curia Regis happened in the mid-fourteenth century. By the time of King Richard III, the Chancery Court had become backlogged from cases pleading the harshness of the common law, and the Court of Requests was no doubt and attempt to remove minor equity cases from the backlog and free up court time – Richard’s attempt at reducing bureaucracy and better administration.

So successful was the Court of Requests that it survived Richard’s reign, and was formalised by the Privy Council of Henry “Tudor”, the usurper. It was a popular court, because the cost of cases was relatively low and justice was swifter than the common law courts, which would ultimately prove its undoing.

Two Masters of Requests Ordinary were appointed by Henry VIII, and another two Masters of Requests Extraordinary were appointed by Elizabeth I. One of these was Thomas Seckford, of Woodbridge in Suffolk.

Thomas was an influential man, even before Elizabeth appointed him to the Court of Requests in 1558. He was MP for Ripon in November 1554, just months after his Grey cousins were executed, and was then elected MP for Orford (a fishing village on the Suffolk Coast which had two MPs despite only having a handful of residents) in 1555 and again in 1558. He was MP for Ipswich in 1559 and for Suffolk in 1571. Seckford Hall, (right) near Woodbridge, is known to have hosted Elizabeth’s court as she progressed, and was built in 1530 as the Seckford Family home; it is now a hotel, while a golf club sits within what was once its grounds. The A12 Martlesham bypass sweeps across the Finn Valley in front of the hall, giving wonderful views to motorists but somewhat destroying the character and appearance of the building and grounds. As an interesting side note, the hotel contains furniture from Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, including (allegedly) the chair Henry the Usurper died on.

Thomas Seckford commissioned Christophe Saxton to create the first surveyed atlas of the realm, which Elizabeth granted him a patent for its sole publication for ten years. This made him an even wealthier man and he added to his estates Clerkenwell, endowing the Seckford Almshouses with income from Clerkenwell. His wealth also led to the establishment of a free school, Woodbridge School, which is a minor public school. His wealth still helps young and old in Woodbridge today.

The Court of Requests fell foul of the common law courts at the end of the 16th century. Angry that business deserted them in favour of the more efficient Court of Requests, the common law courts overturned a number of decisions of the Requests Court, and banned them from imprisoning people; ultimately this was to prove their undoing, and the English Civil War, which led to the invalidation of the Privy Seal, was the final death of the Court, set up all those years before by King Richard for the better delivery of justice.

Thomas Seckford (left) died in January 1587, although we are not sure exactly when, whilst in his early seventies. His mother was Margaret Wingfield, relating him to both the de la Pole and Brandon families, and her mother was an Audley. In fact, Thomas could claim double descent from Edward I, through Joan of Acre, as well as many other great mediaeval magnates, including Edmund “Crouchback”. At his death, Thomas Seckford remained without issue, just like his fellow long-term royal servant Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon. I need hardly add that Huntingdon was his cousin.

Wingfield

Wingfield is a village in the middle of North Suffolk, just a few miles off the A140. There is a “castle”, but this is privately occupied and the owner is a little secretive. The village also features a small “college” and wedding venue, also known as Wingfield Barns, but its main features are St. Andrew’s Church and the “de la Pole Arms”, an excellent hostelry which is directly opposite the churchyard.

This Church tells the story of the de la Poles as they expanded from their mercantile origins in Hull and married an heiress of the Wingfield line. Monuments to three heads of the family and their spouses lie near the altar, which was moved further east as the church grew to accommodate the last of these tombs. Nearer to the door, a board (left) summarises the de la Pole genealogy as they experienced close association with the Black Prince, the wrath of Richard II, the vagaries of Henry V’s French expedition, sudden death aboard the Nicolas of the Tower, marriage to the sister of Edward IV and Richard III – and the reigns of the first two “Tudors”, the last confirmed family member dying in the Tower of London in 1538, although a mystery remains in France and in Italy. John de la Pole’s shield, replete with leopards, is among many in the church.

By then the Brandons, descended through another Wingfield heiress, and their son-in-law Henry Grey had been assigned the Duchy of Suffolk but this tenure ended in 1553-4 as Grey backed his daughter’s claim to the throne and was attainted and executed.

Additionally, a tomb to Robert Leman DD (right) lies beneath the flagstones. This Georgian cleric may well be related to Sir John of Beccles, particularly as he seems to have enjoyed the living of Pakefield, which is also by the A12, further east.

 

May 25, 1553 – A Triple Wedding

A little more about Lord Henry Hastings, son of Katherine Pole and later Earl of Huntingdon. 1595 was the year he died, after serving as Lord President of the Council of the North …

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