TOWARDS TWILIGHT

Farleigh Hungerford

Castle began in some controversy. Thomas de Hungerford, previously Speaker of the House of Commons, got into serious trouble for crenellating without a license. (Crenellations are those crenellations things - the classic trimming for a proper castle). This wasn't an early example of the Style Police, cracking down on examples of bad taste - the fortification of one's property was regarded as a challenge to legitimate authority (think how the neighbourhood would feel if you installed a machine-gun nest on your roof).

However, Thomas managed to grovel his way out of this problem, and was able to hand on a substantial structure to his son, Walter, who expanded and enhanced the property. Walter was also Speaker of the House of Commons - until he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Hungerford, in 1426. From then on, the property was known as Farleigh Hungerford Castle.

Walter's grandson, Robert, was not a lucky man. In the very last battle of the Hundred Years' War, he was captured, and held prisoner in France for seven years. When he finally returned to England, he promptly joined the wrong side in the Wars of the Roses - the Lancastrian side - just before their defeat in the Battle of Towton. He was promptly attainted and later executed. The same treatment was dished out to his son, another Thomas.

A "Bill of Attainder" was a relatively new procedure by which Parliament (as an instrument of the King) could simply state that someone was guilty of treason, confiscate all his possessions and execute him - without the inconvenience of any trial.
The victim of such a procedure was "attainted".
At this point, Farleigh passed into the hands of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later known as Richard III, Richard Crookback (or Laurence Olivier).

Meanwhile, Walter Hungerford was showing rather better judgment than his grandfather, and chose the right side at Bosworth Field, where Richard III was killed. The new King, Henry VII, gave Farleigh back to him.

After that, things got a little complicated. Walter's son, Sir Edward, inherited the castle in 1516. He married a woman called Agnes, who was the widow of one John Cotell. Edward died in 1522. Soon after, Agnes was arrested and hanged at Tyburn on the charge that she had connived at the death of John Cotell (two men from Heytesbury had strangled him and burnt the body). It's difficult to tell at this distance whether Agnes was guilty or innocent - but her accusers waited five years - until she no longer had the protection of her second husband - before bringing any charge. I smell a vendetta.

But the next generation was even more disturbed.

The surviving son was called Walter. He was a pal of Thomas Cromwell, a key player in the success of Henry VII's efforts to stabilise English government after the Wars of the Roses. Walter was created Lord Hungerford of Heytesbury in 1536.

Walter married three times. We know nothing about the first two wives, but the third wrote to Cromwell complaining that her husband had imprisoned her in one of Farleigh's towers for over three years, and that attempts had been made to poison her. And there were suggestions of darker behaviour.

Cromwell failed to act on Lady Hungerford's complaints - protecting his friend from criticism. But, in 1540, Thomas Cromwell himself fell from grace, and Lady Hungerford was vindicated and avenged. That same year, Walter was attainted and executed - for treason and "unnatural vice". The history text books are a little vague about what this unnatural vice was - leaving our modern imaginations room for much lubricious speculation.

With Walter's attainder, Farleigh again passed into the hands of the Crown - but it was sold back to Walter's son Edward, four years later. Carrying on family tradition, Edward accused his (second) wife of trying to poison him. The case was dismissed by the courts, but Edward went to prison, rather than pay her costs. Shortly after, Farleigh passed into the hands of another branch of the Hungerford family.

The Hungerford family was split by the Civil War. John was for the King, and commanded a Royalist garrison at Farleigh. Half-brother Edward was a Parliamentarian, and occupied Farleigh as Royalist fortunes waned in 1645.

A later Sir Edward (in the 1680s) was known as "The Spendthrift", as he spent the estate's 14,000 a year income and went through capital of 80,000. He was forced to sell Farleigh in 1686. At this time, Farleigh was described as virtually unchanged from the time of the great English Barons, but by 1701, a long process of decay had begun to take its toll.

Today, Farleigh is very little more than an impression of a castle. The gatehouse, two chapels, a few walls and a couple of stunted towers remain - kept tidy by English Heritage.

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