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Wortley Family History

The Wortleys of Wortley Hall - written and researched by Nick Andrew


Any visitor to Wortley Hall who has an inquiring mind is likely to start by asking him or herself ‘who were the people who built the Hall?’.  The simple answer is that the Wortley family (in various guises, as plain Wortleys, or with various embellishments such as Wortley Montagu or Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie) lived at Wortley from Norman times.  The current Hall has its origins in the mid-18th century.  Before that, there was an Elizabethan or Jacobean hall on the same site, which must have been demolished so that the current hall could be built.


This is a comfortably straightforward account of the Wortleys and the Hall.  It is, however, misleading.  If we are to understand the history of the Hall and thus what it tells us about history, we have to get behind this beguiling simplicity.  For the purposes of this understanding, it is necessary to trace the history of the family and the Hall from the seventeenth century.  Sir Francis Wortley (1591-1652) provides us with a reasonable starting point.


Sir Francis Wortley’s father was one of several Wortleys to achieve notoriety by throwing residents off the land in order to enclose the parks that make up Wharncliffe Chase and the grounds of Wortley Hall.  Sir Francis himself certainly seems to have maintained this tradition of poor relations with neighbours – the Dictionary of National Biography records that he fought a duel with Sir John Savile (whose family owned Tankersley) in 1626. 


While Sir Francis was resident at Wortley Hall, a visit to Wharncliffe was recorded in verse by John Taylor ‘The Water Poet’ (1580-1653) in Part of this Summer’s Travels, or News from Hell Hull and Halifax (1639).  


Wortley was an ally of Sir Thomas Wentworth of Wentworth Woodhouse, subsequently First Earl of Strafford, one of Charles I’s key supporters from the 1630s to his execution in 1641.  Like Wentworth (and unlike the Saviles of Tankersley), Sir Francis Wortley was a Royalist.  Although he is a signatory to a petition to the King in 1640 complaining at the costs to Yorkshire of the King’s forces billeted there, when war broke out in 1642 he took up arms for the King, and fought in Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire, and Wortley Hall itself was used as the garrison for 150 dragoons.  Sir Francis was captured by the Parliamentary forces and imprisoned in the Tower of London on 22nd August, 1644.  As was normal in such cases, his estate was confiscated.  On his release from the Tower in 1649, he ‘compounded’ for his estate.  This means that he had to present an argument to the parliamentary Committee for Compounding, and was required to make a payment for the return of the estate.  Payments might be of the order of two years’ value of the estate: this is a financial penalty not easily met, particularly as the assessment was based on the value of the estate before property values dropped during the Civil War.


Sir Francis was married twice, first to Grace Brouncker, by whom he had two children, Francis and Margaret, and then to Hester Smithies.  He died in London in 1652.  The Dictionary of National Biography records that he died in poverty (doubtless a relative term, but striking for reasons that will become apparent shortly).  His heir was, predictably, his son Francis, who died in 1665.  He is, by comparison with others, a fairly shadowy figure, but there is one intriguing reference to him on the website of the Thoroughbred Heritage.  This website traces the history of famous racehorses, including one known as ‘Old Montagu’.  The website records that the horse may have been owned by ‘the wealthy horse breeder Sir Francis Wortley’.  Subsequent references make it clear that the Sir Francis is indeed this one, though the horse’s name, which predates the obvious link between the Wortleys and Montagus, is strange.  The issue of wealth is one that we must continue to address, but the ‘horse breeder’ reference might explain why there is a range of buildings shown to the South of the old Hall on eighteenth century maps and presumably demolished when the gardens were developed: they might well be a stud.


This Sir Francis married Frances Faunt, but had no children.  His heir in 1665 presents one of the extraordinary twists in the story.  His estate was left to his illegitimate daughter Anne Newcomen.  This is in itself extremely unusual.  Illegitimate children and their mothers were normally ignored or some appropriate man was persuaded (often meaning bribed) to marry the mother, thus providing a veneer of propriety to events.  So why was Anne named his heir, and what was the relationship between Sir Francis and her mother?  Moreover, under such circumstances the legitimate next of kin would expect to inherit: why was this highly irregular arrangement not challenged by other relatives?  To date, there are no adequate answers to these questions.


As if this puzzle is not enough, it is clear that Anne, for all the ‘stigma of illegitimacy’, was a catch; marrying Sidney Montagu, second son of the Earl of Sandwich.  The Earl (1625-72) was a very significant figure in the early years of the Restoration, having a distinguished naval, political and diplomatic career before his death in action in the battle of Sole Bay in 1672.  The Montagus were a powerful family at the time: the Earl of Sandwich was second cousin to the Earl of Manchester, who was a significant figure during the 1640s and 1650s.  The Earl of Manchester was married to Eleanor Wortley (this was her fourth husband, and the third earl to whom she was married!).  So there are tantalising clues that the Wortleys were involved in dynastic links to the Montagu family, and indeed that these links were strong enough to override issues of illegitimacy.  The obvious question is ‘why?’  The tempting answer is money, but this is inconsistent with the notion that Sir Francis Wortley died in poverty unless the family fortunes recovered at a spectacular rate.  It is of course true that the Wortley estate had been important in iron working (the forges bearing the Wortley name are a obvious reminder of this), but the signatory to a lease on Wortley Top Forge in 1658 is Sir Edward Wortley, not Sir Francis the younger.  Maybe the family estate had been divided, but that would tend to spread more thinly the recovery from supposed poverty.


Sidney Montagu (1650-1727) is said to have been the favourite son of the Earl of Sandwich (which tends again to increase the puzzlement about the match with Anne Newcomen).  He was given what his father termed a ‘liberal breeding’, involving school in Paris from 1661 to 1664, then a stint in the Embassy in Madrid, and the Grand Tour of Europe from 1669 to 1671.  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (of whom much more shortly), his daughter-in-law, describes him in Yorkshire wearing ‘a huge flapped hat, seated majestically in his elbow chair, talking very loudly and swearing boisterously at the servants’.


The family fortunes become less mysterious at this point.  In 1726, Sidney and his son, Edward (1678-1761) were involved in establishing the Grand Allies, a group of six men including the two Wortley Montagus.  The agreement is dated 27th June, 1726, and its purpose was ‘to join some of their collieries and to enter into a friendship and partnership for the purchasing or taking other collieries and for winning and working of coals thereout, and to exchange benefits and kindnesses with each other, upon a lasting foundation’.  This agreement established something approaching a monopoly of coal in the North of England.  The Mining Institute records of agreements relating to mining are peppered with the signatures of either or both Wortley Montagus.  So it is reasonable to conclude that by the early mid-18th century, the family was rich, and that the wealth was derived predominantly from coal.


If the history seems to be becoming rather drearily conventional at this point, nothing could be much further from the truth.  Edward Wortley Montagu became involved with Lady Mary Pierpoint (1689-1762), the eldest daughter of Evelyn Pierpoint, who became 5th Earl of Kingston in 1690, and Mary, the daughter of William Feilding, Earl of Denbeigh.  Lady Mary was, according to the Dictionary of National Biography, raised by her grandmother in Yorkshire.  She became friends with Anne, Edward’s sister, and, apparently through Anne, with Edward.  This relationship blossomed to the point that Edward approached Mary’s father, who set terms for a marriage that Edward would or could not meet.  Mary’s father then ordered her to marry someone else, but Mary and Edward married by special license on 12th August, 1712 – that is, they eloped.


Mary and Edward’s first child, also called Edward, was born on 16th May, 1713.  The date is intriguing.  It means that, if she went full term, Mary must have conceived within the first handful of days of marriage.  This is of course possible, but sources such as the Dictionary of National Biography are strangely reticent about the date of birth.  This may of course just be to try to forestall speculation about whether Mary was pregnant by the time she married (in which case it obviously fails), or it may be that the actual date of birth was stretched (as it was sometimes) to avoid the second instance of illegitimacy in this story.


Sir Edward and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu are remarkable figures.  Sir Edward was ambassador to the Ottoman court in 1716, and was involved in negotiations for peace between the Ottomans and Austria.  It was at this time that they encountered vaccination for smallpox, and Edward the son was indeed vaccinated.  Subsequently Edward the father was M.P. for Huntingdon (1722 and 1727) and Peterborough (1734-47).  He and Lady Mary were involved in London’s literary circles, in which she was a significant figure.  She was reputedly a striking beauty until her looks were ruined by smallpox.  She was a friend of the poet Alexander Pope: indeed, there are some less than convincing suggestions that the relationship was more intimate than it should have been.  Be that as it may, she certainly wrote some indiscreet letters to a Frenchman called Remond, who tried to blackmail her to make good the failed investments he had made on her advice in the South Sea Bubble.


Lady Mary seems to have shared with Pope a capacity to fall into and out of friendships.  There was a falling out with Pope, and a measure of this is the inclusion in one of his Satires (Horace, Book II Satire ii ll. 49-60; written 1733, published 1734) a scathing attack on the couple:


‘Tis yet in vain, I own, to keep a pother

About one vice, and fall into the other:

Between Excess and Famine lies a mean,

Plain, but not sordid, tho’ not splendid, clean.

Avidien or his wife (no matter which,

For him you’ll call a dog, and her a bitch)

Sell their presented Partridges and Fruits,

And humbly live on rabbits and on roots:

One half-pint bottle serves them both to dine,

And is at once their vinegar and wine.

But on some lucky day (as when they found

A lost bank-bill, or heard their son was drown’d)

At such a feast old vinegar to spare,

Is what two souls so gen’rous cannot bear:

Oyl, tho’ it stinks, they drop by drop impart,

But sowse the Cabbidge with a bounteous heart.


Although the focus of their lives at the time was London, it is tempting to see the mention of ‘partridges and fruits’ as a reference to the produce of a country estate, namely Wortley.  The cruel reference to the son is, as we will see, not as far wide of the mark as might be supposed.


Lady Mary went abroad in 1739 without Sir Edward and lived out her life in Italy.  Her letters to her husband, and references to him in letters to her daughter, are amiable.  Sir Edward retired to Wharncliffe, where Horace Walpole visited him in 1756.  Walpole describes him living in the most miserly fashion, which tends to confirm Pope’s judgment.  But this must have been at the time that he was funding the rebuilding of Wortley Hall.  It might be tempting to suppose that the frugal lifestyle was necessary because of the expense of the building work, but when Sir Edward died in 1761, he was reported by Walpole to have left £1,350,000 – a huge sum, presumably already depleted by the costs of work on building the new Hall.


Lady Mary and Sir Edward had two children.  Edward (1713-76) has already been mentioned.  He was what might be politely termed something of a liability.  He ran away from school twice – the first time, he was retrieved a year later from Blackwall, where he was selling fish; on the second occasion, he worked his passage on a ship to Oporto, where he deserted, to be found working in vineyards and returned home.  He subsequently made what his parents regarded as an unsuitable marriage, so the wife was paid to ‘forego her rights’.  His life, in London or on the continent, continued to be similarly chequered, but (perhaps disappointingly) of more salacious interest than relevance to the story of Wortley Hall.  When his father died, he came into an annuity of £1,000, to be increased to £2,000 on the death of his mother (she dies a year after Sir Edward, in 1762).  But in her own will Lady Mary left him a guinea – obviously intended as even more of a snub than leaving him nothing.


The heir to the estate was the second child, a daughter, Anne (1718-94).  In 1736 she married John Stuart, Third Earl of Bute.  Bute’s contact with Wortley Hall would seem to have been minimal: he liked to spend his time on his Scottish estates, and also built Luton Hoo, a country house in Bedfordshire.  Anne, though, must have been responsible for completing the rebuilding of Wortley Hall, and for the eighteenth century parts of the garden.


To complete the picture, we need to consider the local and national loyalties of the powerful families of the area.  The history of the Wortleys and their neighbours at the time of the Civil War raises interesting questions about alliances and enmities which have a bearing on the Hall.  The Wortleys appear to have been allied to the Wentworths and opposed to the Saviles.  The reasons for taking one side or another in the Civil War are not always clear.  Some allegiances will have been for ideological reasons, even when they split families.  And of course as events developed, allegiances changed for a range of reasons.  Sometimes allegiance seems to have been a matter of hedging bets – as Cary Gardiner (a daughter of Sir Edmund Verney, whose family was divided) observed in an impressively unkind letter to her Parliamentarian brother ‘indeed, the world now accounts it policy for the father to be on one side and the son on th’other’ – that is, that at least such a split meant that one branch of the family would be on the winning side.  But it is also tempting to see divisions on the national stage as reflections of local rivalries on the basis that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’: this is not of course incompatible with the idea that ideology could underlie the original animosity.  It is not really possible to reconstruct what lay behind the allegiance of the various families in the area of Wentworth, Wortley and Tankersley in the Civil War, even if the alignment of loyalties can be established.  The same is, however, not true of the politics of the mid-eighteenth century, which have a direct bearing on Wortley Hall.  To grasp this dimension of the history, it is necessary to digress slightly to consider the Wentworth family.


Thomas Wentworth (1593-1641) was, as we have seen, a key supporter of Charles I, arguably second in importance in the period of Charles’s personal rule only to Archbishop Laud.  He served as Lord President of the Council in the North and Lord Deputy for Ireland.  In both roles he made enemies (sometimes for what one would regard as admirable reasons, for instance by increasing the pressure in the North to comply with the Poor Laws, which were not popular with property-owners because it hit them in the pocket).  Be that as it may, he was heavily identified with Charles’s personal rule.  Since many opponents of Charles’s policies were reluctant at this juncture (and indeed subsequently) to criticise the King openly, the stock form that criticism took was to say that he was led astray by the advice of others.  Wentworth was, of course, thus a prime target as a proxy for the King.  He was charged with high treason in 1640, and after both the Commons and the Lords had found him guilty, he was beheaded on Tower Hill on 12th May, 1641.  As a traitor, his estate was confiscated, but ended up being passed not through the male line, as was normal, but to his daughter’s son, Thomas Watson, who took the name Watson-Wentworth.  He and his son, another Thomas (1693-1750) were responsible for Wentworth Woodhouse. 


The descendants of Thomas Wentworth through the male line represented by the brother of the executed Strafford were deeply resentful of what they saw as their dispossession.  They acquired Stainborough Hall, which in 1731 they renamed Wentworth Castle.  The name Stainborough Castle is still used for a folly in the garden, a mock castle which itself is part of the pattern of political messages.   It is meant to embody the length of the family tradition (thus cocking a snook at the upstarts at Wentworth Woodhouse), going back to Anglo-Saxon days, and thus predating the Norman Conquest, used here as a metaphor for the imposition of a subsequent foreign regime, the Hanoverians represented by George I.  It has been argued convincingly that the competition between the two branches of the family manifested itself in their attempts to outdo each other in the development of their houses and gardens.  But there is also a clear link between Wentworth Castle and Wortley Hall.  One of the adornments of the garden at Wentworth Castle is a monument to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in the form of an obelisk topped by a golden sun which it is thought would have been visible from Wortley Hall.  The monument is remarkable for two reasons: it commemorated a woman other than a monarch; and it did so in her lifetime.  The inscription on the monument recognises her role in introducing vaccination for smallpox into the country.  But there is a political point here.  As Patrick Eyres has argued, the Earl of Strafford (great-nephew of the Earl executed in 1641) had been a powerful figure during the reign of Queen Anne, when the Tories held sway.  He fell from power when George I succeeded Anne and the Whigs replaced the Tories.  The succession passed to the Hanoverian George because Anne’s children had died … of smallpox.  So the monument, placed in the context of other coded political messages in the house and gardens, is in effect saying that the Hanoverians and Whigs would not have been in power if only Lady Mary’s innovation had come earlier.  So the monument not only recognises Lady Mary and signals a link between Wentworth Castle and Wortley Hall, but also covertly calls into question the legitimacy of the Hanoverian succession and the Whigs who held parliamentary power.


The fuller relevance of this to Wortley Hall is not hard to find.  The Watson-Wentworths were Whigs, and one of them, the Second Marquis of Rockingham, was Prime Minister in 1765.  As we have seen, the Wentworths were Tories (and covert Jacobites), as, it would appear, were Wortley Montagus, at least by the mid-eighteenth century: Rockingham was succeeded as Prime Minister by none other than the Earl of Bute, Anne Wortley Montagu’s husband.  So we have now seen that the family was increasingly rich as a result of its coal mining interests.  It is unsurprising that this affluence should be displayed in buildings and gardens, as it was by similarly successful families at Wentworth Woodhouse, Wentworth Castle, Cannon Hall and Bretton Hall.  But the rivalry with the Watson-Wentworths points to a more particular intention underlying the design.  The Hall and gardens are part of an assertion of the political authority and status of the family.
NB. references to follow