The Dukes of Buckingham and their Finmere Estates: Part 1
Newsletter 13: November 1998
The Rise and Fall of a Dukedom
The Dukes of Buckingham once owned the Stowe estate, including much of the parish of Finmere. This newsletter tells part of their fascinating and, at times, scandalous story.
The first Buckingham Dukedom expired in 1721 with the death of John Sheffield, builder of Buckingham House (later to become Buckingham Palace). Wealthy, ambitious families desired the lapsed title but the dignity of a Dukedom usually could only be acquired through wealth, military service and political influence. Fortunately for the owners of Stowe, the necessary aristocratic credentials could also be acquired through marriage.
The Grenvilles of Wotton, near Aylesbury, and the Temples of Stowe assiduously accumulated marriages, estates and government service. In 1710, their ambitions were fused through the marriage of Richard Grenville and Hester Temple. After further acquisitions and marriages, their dynasty was eventually rewarded with the long coveted Dukedom in 1822. But even as the Dukedom was awarded, poor estate management and avarice were decimating the family wealth. Bankruptcy quickly followed in 1848 and the title of Duke of Buckingham and Chandos was extinguished with the death of the third Duke in 1889. The magnificent house and grounds at Stowe were sold in 1921.
First Finmere Purchases
We begin our story three centuries before the bankruptcy. In 1547, the manor of Finmere had become the sole possession of John Blundell, a mercer (textile dealer) of London. He had purchased all the land in the parish, except the glebe, which was owned by the Rector, Ralph Ponsonby. At his death in 1559, Blundell’s land was divided between his three daughters, two of whose sons sold their inheritance. These sales allowed John Temple of Stowe to buy one portion of Finmere in 1602 and his son, Sir Thomas Temple, to buy a second portion in 1614. As a first move to improve the family’s status, Sir Thomas also purchased the title of a baronet, a rank created in 1611 by James I to raise money for his army in Ulster.
At that time, Finmere was farmed as three open fields divided into narrow strips (Newsletter 7). Each family tenanted and farmed several strips scattered across the three fields. This method of farming provided a basic but reliable living for villagers. It was not, however, considered efficient or profitable by landowners. Landowners began to enclose the open fields with hedges, a process called inclosure.
The third baronet, Richard Temple, and Sergeant Thomas Waller agreed on inclosure in 1661. Waller was a lawyer who had married into a third of the manor but Richard Temple’s needs were probably the more urgent. His father, Peter Temple, had initiated a family habit that was to become depressingly familiar. By his death in 1653, Peter had accumulated debts of £24,000. Richard desperately needed to raise money from the family estates to repay his negative inheritance. Inclosure would double the value of his land in Finmere.
If Temple and Waller had owned all the land in Finmere, the process of inclosure would have been straightforward. But the Rector of Finmere, the unfortunate Richard Horn, retained important lands to the north and east of the church.
A Rector at War
England was also feeling the effects of the Civil War. While Buckingham largely remained Royalist, Richard’s debt-ridden father, Sir Peter, had declared for the Parliamentarians. Buckingham and the surrounding villages were frequently caught in the ebb and flow of the war. In 1643, Cromwell marched on Buckingham and swept away the Royal base at Hillesden. Thereafter, Royal troops in the area appeared to be in some disarray:
12 or 14 Cavellyers lye about Thaneswick [Tingewick] and Finmore and constantly rob all that pass by at Baynard’s Greene in the day tyme.
These undisciplined troops were withdrawn shortly before Charles I marched on Buckingham in June 1644, arriving via Finmere and the Tingewick Road.
A year later, Captain Andrewes, an officer in the Parliamentary garrison at Newport Pagnell, was ordered to take 20 troopers to Stowe. His task was to obtain intelligence about Royalist activities in the area and he was told about a party of Cavaliers at Finmere. He quickly rode to the village and ordered an immediate charge. Taken by surprise the King’s men fled south across the open fields, They were overtaken at Fringford, where they surrendered.
The routing of the Cavaliers would not have pleased Richard Horn, who may well have billeted them. He was subsequently, in his words, “sacrificed to a three-halfpenny minister.” A Parliamentarian, Richard Warr, took Horn’s place as Rector until 1662. Horn remained in the village in miserable destitution. Relationships with his patron, Sir Richard, who sat as an MP in Cromwell’s Protectorate Parliament, undoubtedly turned sour.
Unsurprisingly in the circumstances, but also in character, Horn was not inclined to agree with the inclosure proposal. Co-operation with the landowners of Stowe would not have been easy for a man who had suffered at the hands of the Parliamentarians. He would also have seen through Sir Richard’s convenient conversion to the Royalist cause, just in time for the Restoration of the monarchy. The angry Horn continued to object to inclosure until the matter was resolved in the courts in 1667.
The inclosure agreement was recorded in a lengthy deed (published in Blomfield’s History of Finmere). Unfortunately, no maps were drawn to illustrate the deed. There is, however, a map of around this date; perhaps commissioned by Sir Richard to record his changing estates. Sadly, just one corner of the map survives (below; west is to the top). Independent, but uncertain evidence dates it to the late seventeenth century, about the time of inclosure. The map, the earliest of Finmere, shows the area of the medieval rabbit warren (now Warren Farm) to the west of the village. It is now in the Huntington Library in California.
Horn’s acquiescence meant the Inclosure Deed could be finalised. But Temple and Waller had not waited for formalities before enclosing their land. In 1663, Horn penned a sarcastic lament in the Church Register:
The English People [nobility] now pass their soft ease in security … The fields of Finmere [are] enclosed and … are placed in few tenants; namely those of Temple, worth £220 per ann., and those of the lawyer [Waller] worth £112.
For all Horn’s complaints, the agreement provided the Rector with £80 a year, replacing rather uncertain tithes in kind. This was evidently not enough. In the years before his death in 1677, Horn boosted his income by celebrating a large number of marriages between non-residents of Finmere. These included the marriage of the daughter of the Rector of Biddleston, “without parent’s consent”
Horn died in 1677, aged 82, having outlived three of his four children. No memorial was erected. The wealthy, celibate and more Temple-friendly Richard Ells succeeded him.
The Transformation of Stowe
Horn’s patron and adversary, Sir Richard, had set about building a grand house at Stowe. Through financial acumen and marriage, he rebuilt the family’s fortunes before his death in 1657.
The fourth baronet, also Sir Richard, continued the development of Stowe and the family’s social elevation, becoming Lord then Viscount Cobham. Under Cobham, Stowe's gardens were transformed from the formal designs of Bridgeman and Vanbrugh to the sinuous landscapes of Kent and Brown. Lancelot “Capability” Brown even took time out from Stowe to design the grounds of Finmere Rectory for Thomas Long, (Rector 1733–71). Here, by careful grouping of trees, Brown was able to create “the effect of a long perspective and considerable space … where there was really little.”
Cobham died childless but had arranged to settle his estate on his sister Hester who had married Richard Grenville in 1710. Hester’s son, Richard Grenville-Temple took over from Cobham and dedicated three decades to expanding the estates, developing Stowe and promoting the family through the peerage.
More Finmere Purchases
In 1753, Richard Grenville-Temple grasped an opportunity to purchase the third part of Finmere, which had passed from Waller to Edward Bacon (of Bacon’s House). Typically for the family, the £8,800 paid was rather more than it was worth but Richard Grenville-Temple argued:
I am very unwilling as it lies so near me, that it should not be purchased by some of the family.
He paid Bacon £2090 in Bank Annuity Stock and the rest in cash, which he raised by selling further stock. The Temples’ purchase of Finmere was nearly complete and they owned most of the parish. Less than a century later, the family and estates lay in bankruptcy and ruin. We will tell that story in a later newsletter.
Our description of the Temples and Grenvilles is largely based on The rise and fall of the Grenvilles, John Beckett, 1994. The map is reproduced by kind permission of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. Our thanks to Mary L. Robertson at the Huntington for her help and for supplying a copy of the map.