"The man is a genius" - England

Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles

Medieval Mosaic







This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2007

Mesni-le-Villers :

There are several places named Vilers in Normandy. Roger de Vilers is mentioned by Wace among the barons who attended the great Council called by the Conqueror at Lillebonne before his invasion of England. Pagan de Vilers, his son, was one of the Lancastrian barons of Roger de Poitou. "A little above Widness, at Warrington, a passage out of Cheshire, and near unto the church, was the seat of a barony given to Paganus de Vilers to defend the ford at Latchford, before a bridge was made at Warrington."—Baine's Lancashire. This barony, thus commanding the pass of the Mersey, only remained in his house for one more generation, as the daughter of his eldest son Matthew, Beatrice de Vilers, carried it to her husband Aumeric Pincerna (see Boteler, vol. i., p. 92). But he left several other sons: Alan, the ancestor of the Traffords; Arnold (Mon. ii. 369), who died s. p.; William; and perhaps Thomas, who, according to the Testa de Nevill, received from him the moiety of Uvethorp, the land of Hole, and the moiety of Calverton in knight service. Paganus also possessed Crosby (which in the time of Stephen was held by Robert de Vilers, whose heiress married Robert de Molines), and held lands in Leicestershire and Warwickshire. In the latter county, according to Dugdale, he "was first enfeoffed of Newbolt, in the parish of Kinalton, in the time of King Henry the First. The family was sometime called of Newbolt, sometime of Kinalton, and held of the Butlers of Warrington in Lancashire. Paganus de Vilers" (grandson to the above, temp. Hen. II.) "was a great Man, and had many Sons. He gave his son William, Newbolt. The last of this family that I have seen any Thing of, was Paganus de Vilers of Kinalton, Knt. 2. Ed. III., on whose Seal was 6 Lyoncels, 3, 2, and 1." Henry de Vilers was Sewer to William de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick, in the time of Henry II.; and his descendant, Gilbert, held Middleston in Warwickshire in the following century. Tarent-Vilars still bears witness to their possessions in Dorsetshire. "Roger Vilars (12 and 13 John) held four fees in Dorset, Somerset and Wilts, and his son John, seven. After this it came to the Clares."—Hutchins' Dorset.

Alan de Villiers, the second son of the Baron of Warrington, "was enfeoffed by his father in Trafford t. Henry I., which lordship was held by Robert de Villiers in the thirteenth century (Testa de Nevill). In the same century, Henry de Trafford, evidently a younger son, held lands in thanage and from the family of De Charlton (Ibid.). Hence the Baronets Trafford, for whom an Anglo-Saxon descent has been imagined."—The Norman People. It is given in Bain's History of Lancashire. "Ralph de Trafford, who is said to have died about 1050, is the first recorded ancestor, but this is before the general assumption of surnames, which, as Camden observes, are first found in the Domesday Survey."—E. P. Shirley. If the "Black Booke of Trafford" is to be credited, Ralph, and Robert Trafford, had a pardon and protection granted them by Hamo de Masci shortly after the Conquest: and their crest, "the aunncientest" in those parts, refers to the

"Trusty Trafford keen to trye,"

who made a gallant stand against the invaders. They bear "a labouring man with a flayle in his hande threshynge, and this written mott 'Now thus,' which they say came by this occasion: that he and other gentlemen opposing themselves against some Normans, who came to invade them, this Traford did them much hurte, and kept the passages against them; but that at length the Normans having passed the ryver, came sodenlye upon him, and then he, disguising himselfe, went into his barne, and was thresshynge when they entered; yet, being knowen by some of them, and demanded why he so abased himselfe, answered, 'Now, Thus.'" But why should these Anglo-Saxon gentlemen have borne such unmistakeably Norman names? I may add, that of the three townships of the name of Trafford described in Domesday, Wimbold's-Trafford belonged to the Earl of Chester, Mickle-Trafford to the Fitz Alans, and Bridge-Trafford to the Church.—Ormerod.

The existing family of Villiers "claim to belong to the race of Villiers in Normandy, from which sprang Pierre de Villiers, Grand Master in the reign of Charles VI., and Jacques de Villiers, Provost of Paris and Mareschal of France in the same period; and they may be so descended, but there is no proof of the fact."—Great Governing Families of England. Nor can I find any link connecting them with the descendants of Pagan, Baron of Warrington, though, as he held lands in Leicestershire, where their first recorded ancestor, Alexander de Vylers, was seated in 1235, the connection seems at least probable. The coat of arms is the chief difficulty. The five escallop-shells on the cross of St. George, which they now bear, were, it is said, first assumed by Alexander's son, Sir Nicholas (who went with Prince Edward to the Holy Land), in memory of his crusade. But Nichols, in his Leicestershire, gives the ancient arms of Villiers as Sable a fesse between three cinquefoils Or[139] while the house of Warrington bore, as we have seen, six lioncels. There are, in fact, five different coats belonging to this name in England.

Sir Nicholas, on his tomb in Melton Mowbray church, is designated of Downs Ampney, Gloucestershire; but his seat was at Brooksby in the co. of Leicester, where the elder branch of his posterity remained for very nearly five hundred years. During many successive generations they were nothing more than the small country squires that Leland found them in the time of Henry VIII. "The chiefest House of the Villars at this tyme is at Brokesby in Leycestreshire lower by four Miles than Melton on the hither Ripe of Wreke or Eye Ryver. There lye buried in the Chirch diverse of the Villars. This Villars is Lorde of Houbye hard by, sumtyme Parcelle of the Bellars Landes. Where also is a meane Maner Place.

"This Villars is also Lord of Coneham in Lindecolneshire toward the Partes of Trent, and there he hath a Maner Place.

"This Villars at this tyme is a Man but of a 200 Markes of Lande by the Yere.

"There is a mene Gentilman of the Villars about Stanford." But the following century brought with it a momentous change.

Sir George Villiers of Brooksby, who died in 1605, had been twice married. By his first wife he had (besides three daughters) two sons; Sir William, created a baronet in 1619, whose line ended in 1711 with his grandson, who sold Brooksby, and Sir Edward, the ancestor of the Earls of Grandison, Jersey, and Clarendon. The second brought him three more sons, and another daughter; and being early left a widow with a slender jointure, conceived "that she should best advance her children's interests by training her second and favourite son George—then a beautiful boy of thirteen—"to woo fortune at Court." It proved to be a lucky inspiration. The lad was taught all the accomplishments of the day, being sent abroad to perfect his education; and when, in 1614, he first presented himself before the King at Apethorpe, he was a singularly handsome and fascinating young cavalier, "of stature tall and comely, his deportment graceful, and of a most sweet disposition." He had come home "with 50 a year as his sole provision"; but within two years of that time he had ousted the long-established favourite, Carr Earl of Somerset, and was reigning in his stead at Court as Master of the Horse. The usual harvest of Royal bounty followed in more than its usual plenitude; for, in the matter of grants, honours, and preferments, James did far more for his pet "Steenie," and for Steenie's kin, than he had ever done for his predecessor. In 1616 he received, with other estates, the great lordship of Whaddon in Bucks, that had been forfeited by Lord Grey de Wilton, and the titles of Baron Whaddon and Viscount Villiers:[140] in 1617 he was created Earl of Buckingham; in 1618 Marquess of Buckingham; and in 1623, while he was absent on his romantic journey to Spain with Prince Charles, Duke of Buckingham, and Earl of Coventry. He was Lord High Admiral of England, Chief Justice in Eyre of the forests and parks south of Trent, High Steward of Westminster, Constable of Windsor Castle, &c. Both his brothers received peerages; and his mother was created Countess of Buckingham for her life. He was not less successful with the son than with the father. At first he was on bad terms with the Prince, having once, in the fervour of an early quarrel, "been very near striking him"; but by his consummate tact and skill he so completely conciliated and won him over, that, when Charles came to the throne, the Duke's power was greater with the new King than it had been with the old. "A rare felicity, seldom seen," says Lord Clarendon, "and in which the expectation of very many was exceedingly disappointed." He was, in truth, as heartily envied and detested as even a Royal favourite could well be; for his early sweetness and generosity of disposition had not stood the test of prosperity. He had become rapacious, selfish, and overbearing; the "flowing courtesy" of his manners had turned to insolence; and his pride, vanity, and ostentation had fairly outgrown all bounds. When he was sent to Paris to bring home the King's French bride, "appearing with all the lustre the wealth of England could adorn him with," he made open and violent love to Anne of Austria, and narrowly escaped being poniarded in audaciously seeking a clandestine interview. Nor was he more respectful to his own young Queen, whom he plainly told, while rating her for some fancied slight to his mother, that "there were Queens of England who had lost their heads." At last, in 1628, when he was but thirty-six, and in the full zenith of his favour, he was stabbed to the heart with a penknife by one John Felton, who had been disappointed of his commission as a captain. This man, "believing he should do God and his country good service," followed the Duke to Portsmouth, waylaid him in the lobby as he came out from breakfast, and though maimed in one hand, dealt him a back blow that proved instantly mortal. Buckingham, drawing the knife from the wound, cried "The villain hath killed me!" and dropped down dead.[141]

He had married Lady Katherine Manners, in her own right Baroness Ros, by whom he had two sons; George, his successor; and Lord Francis, a posthumous
child, called by Aubrey "the beautiful Francis Villiers," who was slain in a skirmish at Kingston-on-Thames in 1648.

The second Duke of Buckingham was only eight months old when he succeeded his father. "With the figure and genius of Alcibiades," and an income of over,50,000 a year, no man could have entered life under fairer auspices than he did, and few ever had greater opportunities of using their talents and advantages. But he chose to cast them all away. "He miserably wasted his estate, forfeited his honour, damned his reputation, and at the time of his death, is said to have wanted even the necessaries of life, and not to have had one friend in the world."—Banks. He is admirably depicted in Dryden's celebrated lines:—

"A man so various that he seem'd to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome;
Stiff in opinion—always in the wrong—
Was everything by starts, but nothing long;
Who, in the course of one revolving moon,
Was chemist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon;
Then all for women, painting, rhyming, drinking;
Besides a thousand freaks that died in thinking."

Like his brother, he had fought on the King's side in the Civil War, and escaped to Holland after the unfortunate battle of Worcester; but soon returned home to make his peace with Cromwell, and to propose to one of Cromwell's daughters, who refused him. He then wooed and won Mary Fairfax, the heiress of the Parliamentary general to whom his forfeited estates had been granted, and by this means recovered the greater part of them. After the death of the Protector, he was sent to the Tower by Richard Cromwell for conspiring against his government, and finally reappeared as a zealous Royalist at the Restoration, when he and Monk together rode before the King, bare-headed, on his triumphant entry into London. He was the letter B of the hated "Cabal" ministry, and the constant companion of Charles II., to whom he successively presented three mistresses; Louise de Kerouaille, who became Duchess of Portsmouth, Mary Davies, and Nell Gwynn. His own life was a scandal even in that licentious age and most profligate of Courts. He first seduced the wife of Francis Talbot Earl of Shrewsbury, and then killed him in a duel. He ignored and neglected the unhappy heiress whom he had married, while squandering her fortune in the lowest debauchery and riot. At length, on the accession of James II., he betook himself to Helmsley Castle, his favourite residence in the North Riding of Yorkshire; and having caught a sudden chill after hunting, was carried to the house of one of his tenants at Kirby Moorside, where he died; not, according to Pope's famous description, "in the worst inn's worst room," for this house, still standing on the market-place, was then probably the best in the town. Neither was he, though deeply involved in debt, reduced to such dire and abject poverty as is there implied. Yet it was a dismal ending for the "gay and gallant" Buckingham,

"That life of pleasure and that soul of whim!"

He left no children, and all his honours—with the sole exception of his mother's Barony of Ros—expired with him.

I have already said that both the first Duke's brothers had been created peers by James I. Christopher, the younger, was Earl of Anglesey and Baron Villiers of Daventry in Northamptonshire, but left only one son who died s. p.; and John was Viscount of Purbeck and Baron Villiers of Stoke in Buckinghamshire. The latter, in "the very dawn of his fortunes," secured the reluctant hand of "a lady of transcendent beauty, the sole heiress of the great wealth and high blood of her mother,"[142] Frances, daughter of Lord Chief Justice Coke. The match—forced upon her by her father's evil ambition, as the price to be paid for the good graces of the all-powerful Buckingham—was utterly distasteful to the poor girl herself, who was "tied to the bed-post and whipped into consent." Four years after her marriage, she eloped with Sir Robert Howard, and gave birth to a son, who was secretly baptised in 1624 under the name of Robert Wright. Though sentenced to do penance for adultery, Lady Purbeck was never divorced, and she and her child remained under the care of her mother till she died in 1645. Lord Purbeck then married again, but had no family. "Robert Wright," the reputed son of Sir Robert Howard, was subsequently called Villiers, and even joined with Lord Purbeck, as his son, in the conveyance of some lands; but when, in 1648, he became the husband of the co-heiress of Sir John Danvers, he adopted her name, and never would bear any other. His widow and both his sons resumed the name of Villiers; and Robert, the elder, a man of extremely bad character, chose to style himself Viscount Purbeck, and, after the death of the last Duke, Earl of Buckingham (a title that in reality had no existence), though his claim was never recognized by the House of Lords. He left two disreputable daughters as his representatives; and his brother Edward, though he no less clung to the name of Villiers, had the good sense never to attempt to take the title. Of him, too, no male descendants remain.

Thus, of all the five sons born to old Sir George Villiers of Brooksby, the posterity of Sir Edward, the second, was alone destined to endure. He had, through the influence of his half-brother, been appointed Lord President of Munster, where he was held "in singular estimation for his justice and hospitality," and died in 1626, having governed little more than a year. His wife, Barbara St. John, was the niece of Sir Oliver St. John, who in 1620 had been created Viscount Grandison, with special limitation to her children. Three of her sons, William, John, and George, successively bore the title; and the youngest, Sir Edward, was the father of the first Earl of Jersey. All four fought loyally in the Civil War; and William, the second Lord Grandison, died of a wound received at the siege of Bristol in 1643, when barely thirty years of age. He left one daughter, Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, whose imperial beauty is still resplendent on many a canvas of Van Dyck's, arrayed in the steel grey satin and wealth of pearls in which he loved to paint her. She became notorious as the mistress of Charles II., who created her Duchess of Cleveland, and gave the name of FitzRoy to all her children. Her eldest son was Puke of Cleveland and Southampton; her second son Duke of Grafton; and her third son Duke of Northumberland; but the first two only left descendants.[143]

Her uncle George, who on the death of his two elder brothers succeeded as fourth Viscount, was the grandfather of John Villiers, created Earl Grandison in 1721. But, as the new Earl's two sons predeceased him, leaving no posterity, this title became extinct at his own death in 1766; and though revived in favour of his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Mason, during the succeeding year, finally expired with her son in 1800. The Viscountcy had reverted to the Earls of Jersey, representing the President of Munster's fourth son.

Edward Villiers, on whom the Earldom was first conferred, had been deputed to attend the Princess Mary into Holland on her marriage with William of Orange, remained attached to her Court, and was appointed her Master of the Horse when she became Queen. He was much trusted by the new King, "being employed by him in most of the secret negotiations with persons of importance;" and was successively Ambassador at the Hague; at Paris; Principal Secretary of State; and one of the Lords Justices during William's absence from England in 1699. The next year he became Lord Chamberlain; was reappointed on the accession of Queen Anne; and died in 1711, the day before he was to have been named Lord Privy Seal. He had been created Viscount Villiers in 1690, and Earl of the Island of Jersey in 1697; and is now represented by the seventh Earl of his name.

His grandson Thomas (the younger brother of the third Earl) married a daughter of the Earl of Essex, Lady Charlotte Capel, whose mother had been the eldest co-heiress of Henry Hyde, the last Earl of Clarendon and Rochester, and who became her grandfather's heir. He consequently received in 1763 the title of Viscount Hyde, and in 1776 the Earldom of Clarendon. The present Earl is his great-grandson.


  1. "In allusion to the cinquefoil of the Beaumonts, Earls of Leicester, from whose grant they had their lands in this county."—Nichols' Leicestershire.
  2. "It was at first intended to give him, along with these titles, the castle and estate of Sherborne in Dorsetshire, forfeited by Somerset's attainder. But Villiers declined this estate, to which clung the old curse of the Bishop of Salisbury, which was popularly said to have brought misfortune or death successively on King Stephen, the Montacutes, the Protector Somerset, Sir Walter Raleigh, Prince Henry, and Carr Earl of Somerset. On Villiers refusing the fatal gift, it was offered to Sir John Digby, afterwards Earl of Bristol, who accepted it without scruple; and (as if to support the popular notion) the troubles that befell him and his son, Lord Digby, are matters of history."—Ibid.
  3. Bishop Burnet heightens the dramatic effect of the tragedy by recounting how Buckingham's dead father, Sir George Villiers, thrice appeared in a vision to an old servant of the family, urging him to warn the Duke of an impending calamity, which he did; and how his sister Lady Denbigh also dreamed that she heard the people shouting "for joy the Duke of Buckingham was dead." She had "scarce woke from the affrightment of that dream," and told it to her gentlewoman, when the Bishop of Ely, bringing the mournful tidings, entered her room.
  4. Elizabeth Cecil, daughter of the first Earl of Exeter, by Dorothy Nevill, the coheiress of the last Lord Latimer. Her first husband had been Sir William Hatton; and Coke, by this marriage, "got possession of Chancellor Hatton's estate, along with a companion who kept him in trouble the rest of his days."—Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors.
  5. For those who are interested in the subject of "Hereditary Genius," it may be noted that four Prime Ministers, Lord Chatham, Mr. Pitt, and the Dukes of Grafton and Portland (though these two latter can scarcely be called geniuses), were all of them lineal descendants of Sir Edward Villiers, who also was the great-uncle of John Duke of Marlborough.