The Dynasty of “Lord Winchester”

Augustus Paulet, 15th Marquess of Winchester, who died in the Boer War

QUIZMASTERS looking for questions might consider these: In the ranking of nobility, what exactly is a marquis? Is it different from a marquess and marchioness? And has Hampshire ever had any marquises, marquesses or marchionesses? 

The answer to the last question is yes: there have been eighteen of them, surnamed Paulet (or Powlett), bearing the title Marquess of Winchester and formally addressed as Lord Winchester.  Moreover, the Winchester title was created nearly 500 years ago and is, therefore, the most senior of its rank in England.

‘Marquis’ is an ancient French title indicating a person of high rank given charge of border territories or ‘marches’. In the pecking order of the English peerage a marquisate is only below that of a dukedom and stands above earldom, viscountcy, and a mere barony. Anglicisation led to ‘marquess’ and ‘marquessate’.

There were also earls of Winchester between 1207 and 1500 but never a dukedom, except in the fictional world of Blackadder, whose scriptwriters invented one. The Duke of Winchester was ‘the greatest landowner in England’ during the reign of ‘Richard IV’!

Between 1385 and 1707, some 33 marquessates were created of which only six are extant. Some – like Tavistock and Bedford and Blandford and Marlborough – are subsidiary to the dukedom.  Similarly, when the Powletts were Dukes of Bolton (from 1689 to 1794) the marquessate was held by the heir to the dukedom.

The Paulets were not short of grand titles, reflecting the way the family married its way into the nobility.  Throughout their lives they generally progressed from the Barony of St John to the Earldom of Wiltshire, and then to the marquessate itself. 

Originally from Hinton St George in Somerset, the grand-father of the 1st Marquess of Winchester secured the place of the family in Hampshire in the early 15th century by marrying the coheir of the long-established St John family of Basing. 

This family traced its roots back to Hugh de Port, William the Conqueror’s baron, who owned about 56 manors in the county, including a major seat at Basing, where he built a moated castle. 

William Paulet, the 1st Marquess, was a classic product of the Tudor court. Trained as a lawyer, he was High Sheriff of Hampshire and its MP and served four monarchs in a variety of roles, making a huge fortune and aggrandising himself at Basing, where he first built the ‘Old House’, the circular ruins of which are still highly visible.

He was in the mould of Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, seated at Titchfield, both clever courtiers who did what ministers and senior civil servants do today. And they both avoided the fate of someone they must have known well, Thomas Cromwell, who lost his head. Cobbett dubbed Paulet a “court sycophant” and Henry VIII “the wife-killer”!

Paulet once famously said that he had survived all changes of religion – even thrived from them –- “by being a willow, not an oak”. Henry VIII made him Treasurer of the Royal Household, and Elizabeth gave him the Great Seal, once remarking: “if my Lord Treasurer was a young man, I could fynde it in my harte to have him to my husbande before any man in Englande.” 

Under the young king Edward VII he became Joint Governor, President of the Council and gained one of the highest posts of state as Lord High Treasurer, which led to his elevation to the marquessate.

Over the years, he also gathered a raft of Hampshire appointments – as Keeper of Pamber Forest, Keeper of St Andrew’s Castle, Hamble, Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire – and many others.

At the dissolution, Wriothesley was lavishly rewarded, but Paulet, too, gained more property to add to Basing and his clutch of other estates, which included Kingsclere, Bishops Waltham, Stratfield Turgis and Droxford. To these and others he added Hartley Witney, Worting, Brown Candover, Itchen Abbas, Itchen Stoke, Townhill Southampton and Netley and Hound. 

When he died aged about 90 he is said to have left 103 descendants. He and other members of the family – including 33 in a vault, as listed on a brass plate – are buried in the Bolton Chapel of St Mary’s Church, Basing.

Paulet’s success had its problems. Very costly royal visits to Basing House were frequent: Henry VIII in 1535, Edward VI in 1553, Mary and Philip in 1554 after their wedding in Winchester Cathedral. And Elizabeth I came four times, staying in September 1601 for 13 days, “to the great charge” of the 4th Marquess.

It must have been a terrifying sight, as the queen and her court approached. Making a mile-long train, it would have included of about 300 people of all sorts – from Privy Councillors down – doctors, jesters, even a brewer!  And about a thousand horses to be stabled and fed.

One of the best-known family stories, however, occurred about 40 years later when siege was laid to Basing House by Roundheads. Fiercely held by the Royalist 5th Marquess, its fate was crucial in the progress of the Parliamentarians. Between July 1642 and October 1645 there was a preliminary attack and three sieges.

The extensive ruins are still there, managed by the Hampshire Cultural Trust, with a fascinating visitor’s centre, Tudor barn, a 100 m long tunnel and much else.

The first siege by Andover MP Sir William Waller failed and led to the marquess’s brother, Edward, engineering a secret surrender. When the plot was discovered, the Royalists arrested those involved and hanged them outside the mansion. Edward, who was attempting to avoid more bloodshed, was spared, but apparently had to act as hangman. 

There were two more sieges, with Oliver Cromwell himself leading the final one. It involved much slaughter, though the Marquess himself was spared, probably because he had exercised the ‘willow and oak’ style of his famous ancestor. 

The siege has often been reenacted and there are many accounts in print. The ruined house was never occupied again, and in future, when in Hampshire, the Paulet family lived at Hackwood House, Winslade – a nearby property that had originally been a hawking lodge (today a grand estate, valued at £65 million) – and later Amport House.

The 6th Marquess turned against the family’s traditional role as the leading Hampshire Catholic family and became an Anglican. As a reward for supporting the Protestant Revolution of 1688 he was made Duke of Bolton. A History of the Dukes of Bolton, 1600-1815 by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, recently published by Pen & Sword Books, tells the full story of the six men – Paulet or Powlett – who held the title.

Later marquesses served in the Army and Navy, often leading the North Hants Militia and taking minor court roles, such as Groom of the Stole. John the 14th Marquess bought his way into the military, Augustus the 15th Marquess lost his life in the Boer War and Henry the 16th, unlike other family members, who were generally educated at Winchester or Eton, attended Burney’s Naval Academy in Gosport.

 In his forties Henry served as Chairman of HCC and in his late sixties went bankrupt in the crash of 1930, afterwards living mainly overseas and reaching the age of 99. 

After more than 900 years, the grip over Hampshire of a noble family with roots in the Conquest had come to an end. The 18th Marquess lives in South Africa.

The HRO contains much on the Paulet (Powlett) family.

From an article by Barry Shurlock first published in the Hampshire Chronicle.

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