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From Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales, Their Legendary Lore and Popular History, by John Timbs, re-edited, revised, and enlarged by Alexander Gunn, Volume II.; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; pp. 71-74.


Engelfield Manor.

Engelfield, in Berkshire, six and a half miles west of Reading, a little to the north of the Bath road, from which it appears a conspicuous object, is one of the most ancient and interesting manorial residences in England, and was the seat of a Berkshire family who claimed to have been settled for two centuries and a half before the Norman Conquest in the place which still bears their name, and to have enjoyed an uninterrupted possession of the soil for seven hundred years. Here, in 871, the battle of Œscendun was fought between the Saxons under Ethelwulf, alderman of Berkshire, and the piratical Danes. A lofty spirit seems to have inspired the defenders of their homes, and Ethelwulf added a sublime confidence to their bravery and heart for the fight when, addressing them, he said, “Thought the Danes attack us with the advantage of more men, we may despise them, for our commander, Christ, is braver than they.” In the conflict the Pagans were defeated, and two of their great sea-earls, who were more accustomed to the deck than to the saddle, were unhorsed and slain.

According to Camden, the ancient family of the Engelfields was surnamed from the town of Engelfield, of which place they are said to have been proprietors as early as the second year of King Egbert — i.e., A.D. 803. Haseulf di Engelfyld is mentioned in several pedigrees as lord of the manor about the time of Canute, and again in the reign of Hardicanute. He died in the time of Edward the Confessor. Guy de Engelfyld, son and heir of Haseulf, flourished in the time of William the Conqueror. His grandson gave the parsonage of Engelfield to the abbey of Reading in the reign of Henry I. — the gift being confirmed by charter of King Henry II. But the honours of the Engelfields under Egbert, or Ethelwulf, or Alfred, concern us only very remotely; and it is not until later times that the public transactions of this famous family have a really living interest for us. Those more stirring times commenced with the year 1307. That year, says the Earl of Carnarvon, in his pleasing and useful “Archæology of Berkshire,” was the last in the long and eventful reign of Edward I., who, as he gave by his politic foresight an early impulse to commerce, was amongst the first also to mould into rude but real form that parliamentary system which has since been developed into those mighty proportions which we now recognise as without precedent or rival. In that year Sir Roger of Engelfield was duly returned to Parliament as a knight of 72 the shire; but in those days service in the Commons House was considered less as an honourable than a burthensome task, to which the elected member yielded with so much relucatnce, that, in the words of a modern historian, it was almost as difficult to execute a Parliamentary summons in parts of Englad, as it has been of recent times to effect the execution of a writ of capias in the county of Galway; and the sheriff was sometimes obliged to appeal to force to prevent the flight of the member to the Chiltern Hundreds or some other place of refuge. The public career of the Engelfields, thus begun in the public service of the country, extends continuously onward to times almost recent. Nicholas Engelfield, grandson of Sir Roger, was comptroller of the household of Richard III. A century later and we find the Engelfield of the day is a certain Thomas, whom we discover standing among kings and princes on the occasion of the marriage of Prince Arthur, the son of Henry VII. and the unfortunate Katherine of Aragon, and receiving the honour of his knighthood on this auspicious day. A few years afterwards he is appointed Speaker of the first of those important Parliaments which legislated during the reign of Henry VIII. His son, another Sir Thomas, still maintained the position of the family in public life as Justice of the Common Pleas, but in his grandson the honours, the eminence, and the prosperity of the family attained their zenith.

Sir Francis Engelfield was a man of considerable distinction in his time. He was a Privy Councillor under Edward VI., and under Mary he united to that duty the office of Master of the Wards. But Mary’s reign soon passed away, and the times of Elizabeth were uncongenial to those who had been the trusted ministers of her sister. Not perhaps that there was any substantial difference between the loyalty and patriotism of Roman Catholic and Protestant, but — setting aside the controverted question as to the religious faith of Lord Howard of Effingham — when the Armada appeared off the southern coast there was neither doubt or division in the country, and national honour and interests were equally safe in the keeping of Roman Catholic or of Protestant. But Sir Francis Engelfield trod a more slippery and dangerous path: he was not only devoted to the Roman Church, but he was a zealous adherent of the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots. in the sixth of Elizabeth he was indicted in the King’s Bench for high treason committed at Nemures, in partibus transmarinis, and outlawed. He was subsequently attainted and convicted of high treason at the parliament 73 in the twenty-eighth of Elizabeth, and all his manors, lands, and vast possessions were declared forfeited to the queen. Sir Francis, however, had by indenture of the 18th of the same reign, settled his manor and estate of Engelfield on Francis his nephew, with power notwithstanding of revoking his grant, if he, “during his natural life, should deliver or tender to his nephew a gold ring.” “With intent,” says Burke, “to make void the uses of his said settlement, various disputes and points of law arose whether the said manor and estate of Engelfield were forfeited to the queen.” In order to settle the dispute off-hand, Elizabeth, in the ensuing session, had a special act passed, establishing the forfeiture of Engelfield to herself, her heirs and assigns; and backed by this enactment she came upon the scene, tendered a gold ring to the nephew of Sir Francis, “and seized and confiscated the said manor and estate, and many other possessions.” He withdrew to Spain and there he is said to have spent the remainder of his life, devoting the wreck of his fortunes to the endowment of the English College at Valladolid. Strong in his hereditary faith, and animated perhaps by generous impulse in the cause of a lady and captive sovereign, we may not lightly pass a censure upon him.

By the ingenious if not cunning device by which Elizabeth confiscated the estates of the Engelfields, this ancient family was stripped of an inheritance upon which they had flourished for 780 years.

Sir Francis Walsingham, who, curiously enough, was afterwards the chief agent in threading the mysteries of Babington’s conspiracy; who sat as a commissioner at Mary’s trial, and whose clerk deciphered the secret letter on which the verdict was supposed mainly to turn — then became, by a grant from the Crown, the owner of Engelfield. Soon, however, the property passed to the Powlets, and after Loyalty House was burnt to the ground by Cromwell and his Ironsides, its possessor, Lord Winchester, spent the remainder of his life at the old seat of the Engelfields, and lies buried in the parish church. Anne, daughter and sole heir of Lord Francis Powlet, only surviving son of the Marquis by his second wife, brought this estate to the Rev. Nathan Wright, younger son of the Lord Keeper. On the death of his son Nathan, in 1789, Engelfield devolved to the late Richard Benyon, by the widow of Powlet Wright, elder brother of the last mentioned Nathan. In the possession of the Benyons the estate remains to the present day.


What manner of structure Engelfield House was in the early Saxon and Norman periods we can only conjecture. It is only natural, however, to suppose that when the Engelfields themselves became aggrandized, as in the days of the Tudors, the old house, whatever may have been its excellences or its archæological interest, would be taken down and a new mansion erected. The house is a Tudor building, and was quaintly described in 1663 as a “well-seated palace, with a wood at its back, like a mantle above a coat of arms.” Its chief features are a series of projecting bays, a central tower, and fine stone terraces leading to gardens, &c.

In the Park, which abounds in deer, is the little church containing a number of noteworthy monuments. The north side of the chancel was built as a burial-place for the Engelfield family in 1514, and here the greater number of the Engelfield monuments and inscriptions are to be seen. Here was buried, in 1780, Sir Henry Engelfield, with whose son, Sir Henry Charles Engelfield, the title became extinct. In the south wall of the south aisle of the church, under an obtuse, is the effigy of a crusader cut in stone — doubtless, one of the early Engelfields. Under a similar arch is the effigy of a lady, carved in wood, in the dress of the early part of the fourteenth century. It appears to have been painted originally. But the most noteworthy monument is that of John, Marquis of Winchester, who defended Basing House against the Parliamentary army; he died in 1674. The following fine lines by Dryden are inscribed on the monument : —

“ He who in impious times undaunted stood,
   And midst rebellion durst be just and good :
   Whose arms asserted, and whose sufferings more
   Confirmed the cause for which he fought before,
   Rests here, rewarded by an Heavenly Prince
   For what his earthly could not recompense ;
   Pray, reader, that such times no more appear,
   Or, if they happen, learn true honour here.
   Ask of this age’s faith and loyalty
   Which to preserve them, Heaven confined in thee,
   Few subjects could a king like thine deserve ;
   And fewer such a king so well could serve.
   Blest king, blest subject whose exalted state
   By sufferings rose and gave the law to fate !
   Such souls are rare, but mighty patterns given
   To earth, and meant for ornaments to heaven. ”


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