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The Proprietors of the Northern Neck

Chapter 1
The Pageant of the Culpepers

In Charles I's peerage patent of 1644 the house we are to study was described as 'the Antient and Noble family of the Colepepers,5 in our counties of Kent and Sussex many ages past renowned for persons of eminent ability both in war and peace.' They first appear upon the records in the time of King John. When Edward I was on the throne one of them was Porter (or Castellan) of Leeds Castle under the Lord Badlesmere, with four sons, all vigorous men at arms; who, after serving against the Scots, became involved in the futile rebellion of Thomas, earl of Lancaster, against Edward II. The two of them from whom all the subsequent Culpepers were descended then first wrote their name on the page of national history by getting themselves conspicuously hanged by a wrathful king.6 Undaunted by this experience, in Queen Mary's time, two more of them were again 'rebels,' being 'out' in Wyatt's Kentish rising against the Spanish marriage; but they, more fortunate than their ancestors, escaped with no more than an imprisonment in the Tower and a temporary sequestration of their property.7

Despite these checks, the family grew progressively until at the beginning of the seventeenth century Camden8 could say of them, 'I have noted at one time there were twelve knights and baronets of this house alive together;' and it was on such a. footing that they gallantly atoned their adolescent intractability by giving to Charles I the unanimous support which ruined them as a house.

The family papers of the Culpepers are, unfortunately, lost; so that, lacking the colour of such material, they must be estimated largely on the testimony of such scraps of public records as array a procession of their ghosts. The roll, incomplete as it is, has enough variety and interest to make one wish for more detail.

Their men of the robe would be led by a recognitor magnae assisae of the time of King John;9 a judge of Common Pleas of the time of Henry IV;10 a Master of the Rolls of the time of Charles I; and a colonial Governor of the time of Charles II; supported by sixteen Sheriffs11 of Kent, Sussex and Worcestershire, and a round dozen of Parliamentmen,12 ranging down from Edward I to George II.

Then would follow their soldiers, veterans of all England's wars from that against the 'Scots who hae wi Wallace bled,' through the rivalries of the Roses, the Hundred Years fighting with France, the sixteenth century death grapple with Spain, to the Troubles and the subsequent contests with the Dutch for command of the sea. Among them we can, however, identify only the rebellious brothers of the time of Edward II, whom we have already mentioned; the sturdy squire who fought at Agincourt under the banner of Sir William Bouchier with a younger brother and five yeomen archers from among his father's tenants;13 the almost anonymous liegemen of the Red Rose;14 an under Marshal of Calais, temp. Henry VIII;15 an Elizabethan youth entered in a visitation pedigree only as `slayne in Holland,' fighting for the Dutch under Sir Francis Vere;16 the Restoration sailor who 'was in four sea fights' against the Dutch ;17 and the several cavaliers we are to meet later.

The next company would be a small band of book men, the herbalist (Nicholas) who practised astrology, and, to the rage of the medical profession, translated the pharmacopaeia into English so that all men might prescribe for themselves;18 a pair of earnest but dull writers against usury (Sir Thomas, the Elder, and Sir Thomas, the Younger);19 and a second rate poet (William) who was the author also of a petition to Parliament, quite reasonably adjudged scandalous, that that august body should take a vacation from politics and go to work.20

Bringing up the rear would be the black sheep; two fortune hunting cadets of the time of Edward IV (Richard and Nicholas), who broke the word they had given as 'gentylmen' and 'arayed in the man of warre' abducted and forcibly married two co-heiresses, despite their 'grete and pittious lamentacion,' thereby establishing a new house of their name;21 the youthful lover of his cousin, Queen Katherine Howard;22 a swaggering colonel who was condemned to lose a hand for an act of violence within the verges of the court, but had sufficient parts to be elected to the Royal Society for his invention of 'iron hearths for burning coals instead of freestone hearths which crack;’23 a youth (Cheney) who in cold blood murdered an officer of the guards with a blunderbuss, but was pardoned because he was brother to a peer;24 and the last baronet of the Wakehurst house who, in the early eighteenth century, gambled away his estate, and by continuing to frequent the resorts where others were doing the same thing after he could no longer take part, was pilloried by Pope in a cadenced contemptuous verse.25

Genealogically, in the seventeenth century, these Culpepers had divided from the Stammhaus of Bayhall (near Tunbridge Wells) into four principal branches, which, in the order of their seniority, were: (a) Bedgebury, in Kent; (b) Wigsell, in Sussex; (c) Wakehurst, in Sussex; and (d) Aylesford in Kent. All were prolific in Thomases and Johns, so that the student must walk warily among them to avoid confusion. Our present interest is, however, confined to the second house, which, as it befell, was to become the senior line and is, moreover, the only one of the four which still persists.

The history of the Wigsell Culpepers falls naturally into three periods: (a) of quiet preparation for political opportunity in comparative rural seclusion, principally at Wigsell; (b) an efflorescence at Hollingbourne in the stimulating atmosphere of a community of professional and Crown service families; and (c) decay and dissolution following the Revolution of 1688.

The last professional soldier among them was the founder of their house, who died in the early years of the reign of Henry VIII. His son was educated in the law and made his career in country business; but his successors maintained themselves for two generations as simple country gentlemen. That they did not accumulate wealth appears from the fact that neither of them was ever on a sheriff roll, nor did Queen Elizabeth honour them with a visit, as she did their cousins of Bedgebury (Nichols, Progresses of Q. Elizabeth, i, 334). The iron manufacturing which they carried on had passed its profitable period, and they needed iterated marriages with heiresses to balance, at least once a generation, their easy going budgets.

For all that this family thus lived for a time aloof from the great world, they did not degenerate. Beginning in the reign of Edward VI almost uniformly they put their sons through the whole gamut of educational opportunity. They were sent first to Winchester, then to Oxford. Finally, with the exception of a few who took orders in the church, they studied also at the Inns of Court. In the university lists, compiled by Foster and Venn, for the two generations preceding the civil wars there are recorded of the CuIpepers twenty-one at Oxford, and ten at Cambridge. Of these thirty-one, fifteen went out of Wigsell, all to Oxford; and of that fifteen, thirteen were enrolled also members of the Middle Temple, while two more were of Gray's Inn without having been to the university. The significance of these statistics is that the Wigsell Culpepers were never 'mere' lawyers; they never sought an education in order to practice law and they never practised law long enough to produce a serjeant or a judge. They studied law as they went to Oxford, as modern men do, for the sake of a liberal education.

So far as concerns their residence in the chancery inns, and even in the inns of court, they were in the strict tradition of the Tudor gentry;26 who generally sent their sons thither from the grammar schools, to acquire what the Greeks called mousike (i. e., manners and such a smattering of law as might fit them for responsibility in country business); but in the sixteenth century it was unusual for men of that kind of breeding to go to the universities, unless they expected to become parsons. Roger Ascham testifies to the point explicitly in The Schoolmaster (1570):

'If a father have foure sons.' he said, 'three faire and well formed, both mynde and bodie, the fourth wretched, lame and deformed, his choice shal be to put the worst to learning, as one good enough to becorn a scholer. I have spent the most parte of my life in the Universitie and therefore can beare witness that many fathers commonlie do thus.'

To attain education, the Wigsell Culpepers thus broke through a class prejudice, and it may fairly be deduced that it was because they did so during several preparatory generations that they were qualified to take the high average position in Jacobean society which Camden noted.

That position was achieved, after they had removed to Hollingbourne, by the diligent practice of politics, for which legal studies had qualified them. In this they were as typical of the earliest Stuart era as those sterling soldiers, the St. Legers, to whose Kentish lands they succeeded, were racy of Tudor times. Before the Culpepers appeared on the great scene, to participate in government administration and serious service in both houses of parliament, they served a local apprenticeship. Facile with the pen, and persuasive with the tongue, they became county leaders because they were recognised to be the embodiment of enlightened conservatism. Whether resisting the payment of ship money and the abuse of royal farms of monopolies of necessities of life, or arguing for the reduction of 'usury,' they were neither democrats nor fanatics, but stood resolute for ordered authority against theoretical innovations. They held with Lord Falkland that when there is not a necessity for change, there is a necessity not to change.

Estimating the community in which they played this part, a modern historian has crystallized at once their achievement and the cause of it:

'When the public opinion of Kent was finally voiced (whether fighting for the Prayer Book or against ship money) it coincided remarkably nearly with the verdict of posterity. Its ruling families, Finchs, Wottons, Culpepers and Derings, represented a royalist but staunchly Protestant outlook… a conservative moderation different entirely from the royalism of Cornwall or the North.'

(Continued in Chapter 2a)

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5 So the name was originally, and so it now is again among those of the family who persist. But from the earliest records it is occasionally spelled, as it was doubtless always pronounced, Culpeper. After the Restoration this form became common usage and so passed into Virginia history and topography. For this last reason we have here used it consistently.

There has long been current in the Fairfax family a tradition that the Dutch wife of the second Lord Colepeper made a mistake in spelling her new English name and, being a strong minded woman, insisted on her descendants ratifying her mistake. The demonstrated fact that this lady did make mistakes in spelling cannot, however, offset the testimony of the contemporary use of the form Culpeper by entirely distinct branches of a numerous family.. (Return)

6 Holinshed, 1807 ed., ii, 563, 569; Weever, Antient Funeral Monuments (ed. Tooke, 1767), p. 69; Wykeham-Martin, Leeds Castle, p. 115.. (Return)

7 They were Thomas10 of Bedgebury, and Thomas10 of Aylesford. See Holingshed, iv, 21 ; The Chronicle of Queen Jane (Camden Soc. No. 48).pp. 36, 54, 71; Acts P. C., 1552-53, p. 306 1554-56, p. 13.. (Return)

8 Remains concerning Britain, tit. Armouries, s. v. Culpeper. The number may be extended to sixteen by including all the Knights dubbed by Elizabeth and the Stuart Kings, viz:

Of Bedgebury: (i) Sir Anthony, 1560-1618 and his sons (2) Sir Alexander, 1581-1639, and (3) Sir Thomas, 1598-1643, of St. Stephens.

Of Wigsell: (4) Sir John, 1600-1660 later raised to the peerage; (5) Sir Thomas, 1600-1638, of Folkington; (6) Sir Thomas, 1575-1661, the elder, of Hollingbourne, and his sons (7) Sir Cheney, 1601-1663 and (8) Sir Thomas, the younger, 1625-1697; (9) Sir Martin, 1579-1604, of Feckenham; and his brother (10) Sir Stephen, 1580-1611 (11) Sir Alexander, 1570-1645 of Greenway Court.

Of Wakehurst: (12) Sir Edward ob., 1630, and his sons (13) Sir John, 1594-1621, and (14) Sir William, 1602-1678, the last named created a baronet.

Of Aylesford: (15) Sir Thomas ob., 1604, and his son (16) Sir William, 1588-1651, the last named created a baronet.

It will be noted that of the four branches of the family which flourished under the Stuarts, one became extinct, one was raised to the peerage, and the other two clinched their golden spurs by buying baronetcies.. (Return)

9 Pipe Rolls, cited in Philipot, Villare Cantianum (1776 ed), p. 271. A recognitor was an assessor, not a judge as Philipot suggests and as Mr. Wykeham-Martin argues. See Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law, 2d ed., ii, 622, and Oxford Dict., s. v.. (Return)

10 Foss, Judges of England, p. 180. . (Return)

11 Sheriff lists in Philipot; in Berry's County Genealogies, Kent and Sussex, and in Fuller's Worthies of England. . (Return)

12 0fficial Return of Members of Parliament, 1878. (Return)

13 Sir N. H. Nicolas, The Battle of Agincourt, 1832, P. 361.. (Return)

14 List of Lancastrian gentry of Kent, 1433, in Fuller's Worthies, ed. Nuttal, 1840, ii, 160.. (Return)

15 P. C. C. Holder, 16.. (Return)

16 Visitation of Sussex, 1633-34, 'Culpeper of Fogington!. (Return)

17 M. I. to John, third Lord Culpeper, in Hollingbourne Church.. (Return)

18 Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) of the Wakehurst family in Dict. Nat. Biog., re-issue, v, 286. Gentlemans Magazine, 1xvii (1797), 390, 476, 477, 563.. (Return)

19 Wood, Athenae Oxon iii, 533. . (Return)

20 This was William (1665-1727), son of Sir Thomas, the younger, of, Hollingbourne. His verses are included in Richard Savage's Miscellaneous Poems, 1726. For the Kentish Petition of 1701 see Luttrell, Brief Relation, v, 47; Somers Tracts; and the comment in Ranke, History of England. . (Return)

21 Early Chancery Proceedings, Bundle 26, No. 304, cited by Cot Attree in Sussex Archeological Journal, x1vii, 60.. (Return)

22 Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, xvi, 1334 ff. Gentlemans Magazine 1xvii (1797), 543. The mother of the Queen was of the Aylesford house. This Thomas, who was beheaded at Tyburn, 10 November, 33 Hen. VIII [15411, was second son of Sir Alexander9 of Bedgebury. See the litigation over his estate, Culpeper v. Bushe (1553) in Dyer's Reports (1672 ed.), p. 100.. (Return)

23 Evelyn, Diary, 9 July, 1685; Luttrell, Brief Relation i, 401, iv, 246; Record of the Royal Society, 1901 Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1666-67, P. 388; Collins' Peerage (ed. Brydges), i, 343; Culpeper v. Austin, 1682, 2 Chan. Cas., 221; Memoirs of Lady Fanshawe (ed. Sir N. H. Nicolas, 1830), P. 156. This Col. Thomas Culpeper (1637-1708), of St. Stephens near Canterbury, was of the Bedgebury family. The evidence for him, especially his MSS., preserved in the British Museum (Harl., Nos. 6819 ff.), fully justify Sir Harris Nicolas' characterization of him as 'a most extraordinary character, and though a man of genius and erudition, very nearly a madman.'. (Return)

24 Cheney, afterwards fourth and last Lord Culpeper, . (Return)

25 Moral Essays, Epistle III, On the use of riches, verse 65, with Pope's note of 1732. . (Return)

26 This practice began after the inauguration of the Tudor justices of the peace recruited among the country gentry. Stow says (Survey of London, 1598), 'the inns of Chancery… want not some… young students that come thither sometimes from one of the universities and sometimes immediately from grammar schools [to spend] some time in studying upon the first elements and grounds of the law… and perform the exercise… called Boltas Mootes and putting of cases! They were taught also 'to dance, sing and play instrumental music.’ See the article, Inns of Court in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, eleventh edition . (Return)

Last Revised: 02 Jan 2015


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