IntroductionIf you go up into the eaves of Grafton Manor it is still possible to see where someone has carved the date into one of the wooden beams. The date is 1742. Who knows who did it maybe a workman, maybe it was one of the servants. Whoever it was, Grafton Manor then was a prestigious new house, built on the site of a much older house that had been tragically destroyed by fire in 1710. It was a famous house and had been the home to many families over the centuries, all fabulously wealthy and most favourites with the monarchy. Sir Humphrey Stafford was a trusted friend of Henry VI, Sir Gilbert Talbot enjoyed the favour of Henry VII and Charles Talbot who enjoyed the good opinion of no less than five monarchs, Charles II, James II, William and Mary, Anne and George!
It is a house that has always enjoyed celebrities, the son-in-law of John Talbot was Robert Wintour who was involved in the Gunpowder plot. It has also been the place of intrigues and scandals, most notably, the second Duke of Buckingham who took a fancy to the Lady of Grafton Manor, Countess Anna Maria and offended the then Earl of Shrewsbury who challenged him to a dual. Unfortunately the Earl of Shrewsbury was no match for the Duke, either with his wife or as a swordsman and he died on January 16th 1668. His son Charles was probably playing happily at Grafton the day his father died.
The Family TodayToday it is the home of John Morris, his wife June and their three children, Nicola and Simon (who are twins) and their elder brother Stephen. John came with his parents to the Manor just after the War, his mother used the Manor as a rest home, John in his turn changed its use to a restaurant and country house hotel and in recent years it has become a leading wedding venue. The closest the Morris family has come to a duel recently was when one couple decided that the theme for their wedding would be medieval and everyone dressed up. The groom wore a suit of armour which would have helped the Lord of Shrewsbury!
The house today is graced with four poster beds, William Morris wallpaper and en-suite bathrooms, a long way from its beginnings as a Norman estate given to Urso d'Abitot by William the Conqueror. The estate then was over 400 acres, today it is just over thirty. Urso was not kind to his English tenants and exploited them dreadfully.
Not so humble beginnings
Battles with KingsIn the 13th century Grafton became the home of the Stafford family. The family became the wealthiest and most influential family in the Midlands. Sir Humphrey Stafford is best known for supporting HenryVI in a clash with a rebellious mob led by Jack Cade. He was bludgeoned to death in the fight and the estate passed to his nephew also called Humphrey. Like his uncle he too was a strong supporter of the crown and fought with Richard 111 against Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Henry Tudor was victorious and was aided by Sir Gilbert Talbot. Richard was killed but Sir Humphrey managed to escape. Henry Tudor became King and pardoned Sir Humphrey, but Humphrey continued to oppose the new King and was subsequently arrested and executed at Tyburn. The new King rewarded Sir Gilbert Talbot with the estate of Grafton for helping him in his battle against Richard. The estate came with other land in Upton Warren, Kings Norton, Kidderminster, Kenneswick and Westbury.
Sir Gilbert Spurned in loveSir Gilbert was a favourite of the King and was appointed to the post of Governor of Calais. He married Elizabeth the daughter of Henry Lord Scrope and she gave him a son named after his father. She also gave him two daughters. Elizabeth died five years after coming to Grafton and is buried in a beautiful tomb on the north side of Bromsgrove church.
Gilbert looking for a wife again proposed to the widow of Thomas, Lord Scrope, also called Elizabeth. but she would not accept him. Even the King made an application on Gilbert's behalf but still she refused. Eventually he gave up and married instead Lady Gardiner who was a widow and former wife of a Lord Mayor of London. She was delighted with Grafton and bore Gilbert another son, Sir John Talbot.
When Sir Gilbert died in 1517 the Grafton estates passed to his son Gilbert, but he died in 1543 without a male heir. His half brother John died in 1555.
Grafton under John TalbotWhen his father died in 1555 his young son inherited, he too was called John and was only thirteen. He was responsible for re-modelling the grounds and creating the feature of the lake, fish stew ponds and terraced walks. Traces of this work can still be seen at Grafton today. The interior of the Manor was lavishly decorated as suited one of the richest men in the country.
When it was finished in1567 Queen Elizabeth was on the throne and her arms and date can be seen above the porch. These words are engraved around the porch window:
Plenti and grase
Bi in this place
Whyle evry man is pleased in his degre
There is both peace and uniti.
Salaman saith there's none accorde
When everi man would be a lorde
The Gunpowder PlotThe Gunpowder plot was planned at a meeting at Huddington Hall in September 1605. The meeting was attended by Robert Catesby, the leader, Robert Wintour and his brothers, James and John, as well as several other members of leading Midland families. Catesby was cousin to the Wintours and Robert Wintour was the son-in-law of John Talbot. There is no evidence that John knew of the plot, but it is a fact that that on Sunday 3rd of November Robert Wintour and a group of conspirators spent the day at Grafton.
The following morning John Talbot accompanied them as they set off horseback for Dunchurch. John Talbot was on his way to his other estate at Pepperhill near Albrighton.
On the Wednesday evening, a horseman brought news to him there that the plot had failed, that his son-in-law had been denounced as a traitor and that Robert was a fugitive from the law. A posse composed of Sheriffs of Worcestershire and Warwickshire were in pursuit of the conspirators.
Robert was captured along with the others and executed. John went back to Grafton with a heavy heart. His daughter was now a widow and the Plot would taint the family name.
The Plot did indeed bring suspicion to the family and Sir Richard Walsh, High Sheriff of Worcestershire was ordered to make a thorough search of Grafton to see if any incriminating documents could be found. Grafton was stripped of its furniture and the family arms and it took John three years to get them released, at that time everything was sold and John was given the money, so to some extent his honour was restored.
John died five years after the Gunpowder Plot and Grafton passed to his son George.
Father Oldcorne and Father Wall deceasedToday the chapel is used for blessings after a civil ceremony in the house, it has been used by Anglicans, Catholics and Hindus as a place to give thanks and is truly non-denominational. This has not always been the case. During the reign of Elizabeth 1 Grafton was one of the places that Catholics could celebrate mass. Priests would travel to Grafton disgusted as ordinary folk and they would carry a small consecrated altar stone with them that would sanctify any table that it was placed upon. Father Oldcorne was at Grafton during the period of the Plot and he also organised mass at Badgecourt, Cooksey and Purshall Hall. He was killed for his faith, executed at Red Hill just outside Worcester in 1606.
Father Wall, another of Grafton's priests was the last man in Worcestershire to be executed for his faith. He had been domestic chaplain for Lady Yale of Harvington Hall and was executed on 22nd August 1679 after twenty years of work based at Grafton.
The Talbots went from strength to strength in terms of material wealth in the later half of the 17th century. Through judicious marriage arrangements Grafton became one of the richest and largest of the estates in the Midlands. The Talbots had intermarried the Wintours throughout the years to everyone's benefit.
Love Affair at Grafton
Francis the young Earl of Shrewsbury married a young vivacious girl called Anna Maria, daughter of Lord Brudenell. He was passionate about her but she was less taken with him and could be a minx. Francis was involved in the court life of Charles II which had a repuation for licentiousness and excess. One of the leading characters of the court was the second Duke of Buckingham, known for taking a shine to the ladies. He became involved with The Lady of Grafton Manor. Francis was unable to adopt the moirés of the lax court over such matters and was deeply jealous, he was still in love with Anna Maria and could not tolerate her liaison the Buckingham. The Earl of Shrewsbury challenged him to a dual. A three-a-side fight between the Earl and the Duke and their seconds.
Anna Maria disguisedWhile the contestants were checking their weapons at dawn on 16th January 1668, a figure in a page's clothes stood under a tree holding the horses. It was the Lady of Grafton herself, come to see the fight between her husband and her lover.
The Duke of Buckingham was clearly the superior swordsman and the clash was short. The Earl of Shrewsbury was killed. Anna Maria ran forward and embraced the Duke, his shirt still dripping with the blood of her dead husband.
Charles her son, was only eight when his father died.
Charles Talbot favourite of KingsThe young boy who inherited the estates of Grafton at eight years old was destined, like his forebears , to be the favourite of the King and Charles II appointed him Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire when he was still a very young man. James II, William and Mary, Anne and George were also generous with their approbation. James made him Colonel of the Horse and Gentleman of the Bedchamber. Charles however did not stay loyal to James II, he disliked his religious discrimination and was appalled by the oppressive Catholicism of the king.
In 1679 Charles Talbot astonished the Catholic hierarchy by attending a Church of England service, conducted by Dean Tillotson of Canterbury at Lincoln's Inn Chapel. Charles, with other nobles approached William of Orange for support and there is no doubt that they planned to oust the King. In 1688 they sent a letter to William of Orange to encourage his to claim the throne. William had no money for such a venture so Charles mortgaged all the Shrewsbury estates and sailed to Holland to meet William and Mary.
A month later saw Charles accompanying James II to the docks and seeing him off to exile in France.
Political Career for CharlesWhen William and Mary began their reign Charles received the seals of office as Secretary of State and was appointed to the Privy Council.
Charles helped to place the Bill of Rights on the Statute Book in 1689. This Act effectively ended the Divine Right of Kings. He went on to the Toleration Act which guaranteed religious freedom of worship and put an end to religious persecution that was such an anathema to him. He then went on to oppose censorship of publications with the Licensing Act. This effectively led to the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech which is at the core of British society.
In 1694 the earl was made a Knight of the Garter and the King made him the Marquis of Alton in Staffordshire and first Duke of Shrewsbury.
William thought very highly of Charles and his political life flourished until ill health caused him to step down in 1699. In 1700 he left England and went to the Continent for seven years.
Charles MarriesCharles astonished everyone by marrying at the age of 45 a girl of Italian descent called Adelhida, she was the daughter of the Marquis Palleotti of Bologna. They returned to England much to the astonishment of Queen Anne and the court, who considered her to be not very intelligent or loyal to her husband.
In 1710 Grafton Manor was burnt down, all that remained was the chapel and the entrance hall and the gable which give an idea of what the building must have been like. This was a terrible blow to Charles Talbot. However the Queen continued to favour Charles and made him Lord Treasurer just two days before she died.
Adelhida became a favourite of George I and there were rumours of a relationship between them. George favoured Charles and appointed him Groom of the Stole and Keeper of the Privy Purse.
Charles acquired another mansion at Isleworth in Middlesex and died there on Feb1st 1718, as one of the greatest statesmen of the time with a brilliant political career behind him. Given that the Talbots had been Catholics for decades, Charles received the last rites of the Church of England. He had no children and when he died the Earldom passed to his cousin Gilbert Talbot who was born at Badgecourt.
The 20th centuryGrafton remained the seat of the Earls of Shrewsbury until the death of Bertram Arthur, Earl of Shrewsbury. When he died with no male heir the title passed back to Talbots. Grafton remained within the Talbot family until 1934 when it was sold to Alfred Murray-Willis.
The Morris family moved to Grafton just after the War, Marion and Reg Morris and their son John. John has been at the Manor ever since and made it his much loved home, but also his place of business. There is hardly an inch of the buildings or the garden that John and his wife June have not worked on over the years. Their three children, Stephen, Simon and Nicola, all work at Grafton and the grandchildren, John, Lydia, Henry and India still play in the Monks meadow the way their parents and grandfather did before them.