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The Medieval West Family of Christchurch
|After reading Jack Dwyerís article on the late Nigel Nicolson who was M.P. for Christchurch in the 1950ís (November Bulletin), I wondered how many members were aware that some of his ancestors, through his mother Vita Sackville-West, were closely connected with Christchurch in the 14th century and that some of them were buried in the Priory Church.
First of all one needs to be reminded of the political situation in 1330, Edward the second had been deposed and then horrifically murdered in Berkeley Castle in 1327 to be replaced by his 10 year old son Edward the third. As he was a minor the country was governed by Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. When the young king came of age in 1330, Mortimer and the Queen Mother were reluctant to relinquish power. During the evening of Friday the 19th October a band of armed knights loyal to the young king, led by Sir William de Montacute, entered Nottingham Castle through subterranean passages and arrested Mortimer. One of the knights in this party was Nicolsonís ancestor Sir Thomas West. He must have been close behind his leader for on the 24th February1331 the king pardoned him and two others for the deaths of Sir Hugh de Turpliton and Richard de Monmouth who had been killed while trying to prevent Mortimerís arrest (Montacute had been pardoned in the previous month).
At this time Christchurch was a royal possession and on the 12th December 1330 Sir Thomas West was granted, for a period of seven years, the custody of the castle, borough and hundred of Christchurch together with the manor of Westover. It is unlikely that he was the resident constable of the castle as in the same document he was granted the custody of Southampton Castle, the New Forest, the manors of Ringwood and Lyndhurst and the bailiwick and hundred of "Rudbergh" (presumably Redbridge). The document goes on to instruct him to pay the income from all of these estates (£435 per year) to the Exchequer twice yearly at Easter and Michaelmas. When in the following year a grateful Edward the third rewarded Montacute by giving him Christchurch, Westover and Ringwood, it is possible that Sir Thomas West may have continued to administer these estates for the new owners, but I have not found any documents to support this. However I have seen documents which confirm that he continued to administer the rest of the estates in South West Hampshire listed above, even though they had been given to Queen Philippa (Edward the thirdís wife) during 1331.
The Arms of Sir Thomas West
|Sir Thomas West died on the 1st November 1343 "in parts beyond the seas", but he is not listed as holding any lands in Hampshire or Dorset at the time of his death. His son, another Sir Thomas West, married Alice Fitzherbert, the daughter of Reginald and the heir of her brother Edmund Fitzherbert . From the latter she inherited large estates mostly in Dorset and Sussex. She died on the 28th August 1395 and in her will asked to be buried in Christchurch Priory "where my ancestors lie". We must assume that her husband (who died on the 3rd September 1386) had also been buried there for she bequeathed £40 for making tombs for her husband and herself. The list of estates that she held at her death included five manors in Hampshire in addition to half of the local manor of Winkton.
Their son, also a Sir Thomas, was said to have been Constable of Christchurch Castle from 1400 until his death on either the 18th or 19th April 1405. The list of the lands that he held in Hampshire when he died is identical to the list of his motherís holdings. In his will he asked to be buried in the "new chapel" in Christchurch Priory. It has always been claimed that the tombs either side of the Lady Chapel alter are those of Alice West and her son, but architectural experts date them about a hundred years later.
The third Sir Thomas who died in 1405 had married Joan de la Warr, the daughter of Sir Roger, the 3rd Baron de la Warr and the half-sister of the 4th and 5th barons. When the 5th baron died in 1426 without issue, Joanís son Reginald West became the 6th Baron de la Warr and his heirs dropped the barony of West from their title as de la Warr was the senior barony.
In 1761 Sir John West the 16th baron received an earldom and took the title Earl de la Warr. From a younger son of the 2nd Earl were descended the Cornwallis-Wests of Newlands Manor at Milford-on-Sea where King Edward the seventh was a frequent visitor when he was the Prince of Wales. From a younger son of the 5th Earl were descended the Sackville-Wests of Knole in Kent with Victoria (Vita) Sackville-West marrying Sir Harold Nicolson the diplomat, M.P. and biographer in1913 and thus our story has returned to its starting point.
Unfortunately space has not permitted me to include further details from the wills of Lady Alice and her son, especially their bequests to Christchurch Priory.