Sir Francis Walsingham
The story that after Sir Francis Englefield left in 1559, the estate was given by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Francis Walsingham seems to originate from Richard Benyon who told it to the Lysons when they were compiling their Magna Britannia of 1813. Why Mr Benyon believed that Englefield was given to Walsingham is not known and there is no known evidence of any Crown grant of Englefield to Walsingham, indeed there is evidence of grants to several other people over the relevant period. Elizabeth did grant Walsingham the lease of Barn Elms, close to Richmond Palace in Surrey, in 1579 and visited him there in 1585. He also had a house at Odiham in Hampshire and a London residence in Seething Lane but no other known source mentions Englefield among the list of his properties. Elizabeth I made frequent annual Progresses around the country but in 1587, the year that the Long Gallery at Englefield is supposed to have been built for her convenience, she did not make a Progress. Mary Queen of Scots had been executed at Fotheringay on 8 February that year and was buried at Peterborough Cathedral on 1 August so it was thought prudent for the Queen to confine herself to her palaces around London. The following year, 1588, was the year of the Armada and again Elizabeth stayed in the London area, although she did visit Walsingham at Barn Elms. In 1589 Elizabeth made three short Progresses, all in Surrey, and again visited Walsingham at Barn Elms. Walsingham died at Seething Lane on 6 April the following year.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 1895 said that Paulet acquired Englefield by his second marriage, with a reference to a work by Rev James Granger, Rector of Shiplake, that appears not to relate to available online copies of the work. The 2004 version simply says it was part of her dowry, without referring to any source. A somewhat less plausible account was published by the Reading Mercury of 13 September 1873, reporting a visit to Englefield by the Newbury Field Club, seems to suggest that Englefield passed to Walsingham (died 1590) from the Marquis of Winchester who was given it after Basing House was destroyed in 1645, though that is probably an editorial oversight.
Powlett Wright, who inherited in 1740, was the half-brother of Mr Benyon's father through their mother's second marriage and was indeed descended from Francis Walsingham, via his mother and grandfather and was indeed descended from Francis Walsingham via his mother and grandfather, the latter being the son of Walsingham's granddaughter, Honora de Burgh and John Paulet. Paulet married Honora in 1633 when, despite the ODNB, other records show that the manor was the property of Lucy Hastings, inherited from her father Sir John Davis. John Paulet did not acquire the manor until 1635 when Lucy Hastings "gave warranty for it" to him. This warranty is recorded in the Feet of Fines of the Court of Common Pleas and such records were used to settle property disputes, although more often simply as an official record of a transfer. If this was the settlement of a dispute, could the source of that dispute have been that the manor was rightly Paulet's, via his wife in succession to her mother and grandfather? If that were the case then the previous grants by Elizabeth and James I must have been considered illegitimate by the Court and the estate should have passed to Walsingham's daughter when he died in 1590 and on her death (variously given as 1631, 1632 or 1633) to her daughter Honora. We know that the court had previously determined the lease to Foster and Fitton in 1586 to be void but the two cases are hardly on all fours as in Foster and Fitton the lease was granted before the formal seizure of the estate under the attainder and actually anticipated what the court was trying to decide. The possibility of a direct line of inheritance is refuted by the Victoria County History.
Adding to the confusion, Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex, who had a lease on Englefield from the Crown between 1589 and 1601. Devereaux was the second husband of Frances Walsingham. Frances married first the famous soldier Sir Philip Sidney but Sidney died on 17 October 1586 from a wound received at the Battle of Zutphen on 22 September, where the English were fighting alongside the Dutch against Spain. Also distinguishing himself at Zutphen was Devereaux and after the death of Sidney he married, in secret, his widow. The marriage became public in October 1590 when the signs of a pregnancy could no longer be concealed and a son was born in January 1591. This probably indicates that the marriage actually took place either in early 1590 just before the death of Walsingham or later during the summer. Essex was granted the lease in 1589 (before his marriage to Walsingham's daughter and Walsingham's death so clearly it didn't come to him through that marriage) but there is no evidence that he was ever there; indeed after 1589 he only spent four years in England until his failed attempt to raise revolt in London in 1601 resulted in his execution. After the execution of Essex, Frances married Richard Burke, the 4th Earl of Clanricard, as her third husband. From this marriage was born Honora, who married John Paulet, 5th Marquis of Winchester.
An undoubted line of descent from Walsingham to Honora is, however, irrelevant unless a clear grant to Walsingham in the first place can be shown. The possibility is that it was simply assumed, post hoc ergo propter hoc, that in the absence of other evidence this must have been so and the wording in Magna Britannia seems to suggest that might have been the case.
Having already described an impossible succession, the Reading Mercury article casts further doubt on it's reliability by going on to say that Walsingham "entertained Queen Elizabeth at Englefield House, on which occasion the long gallery was built to enable her to come onto the second storey of the mansion without ascending the flight of stairs, the mansion standing on sloping ground, and the old roadway on the hillside being close to the entrance the long gallery". Where this embellishment came from is unknown but the historical records are quite clear that the Queen visited Walsingham at Barn Elms and it was Sir Edward Norreys who entertained the Queen, and in 1601 - eleven years after Walsingham died. Perhaps the Newbury Field Club were misguided by the Rector simply relating the family story when he entertained the club in the absence of Mr Benyon (his brother in law) and he also gave an inaccurate account of the derivation of the name Englefield. This information was repeated by others later despite being demonstrably inaccurate.
© 2021 Richard J Smith