The Lordship of Brettgrave came into being in 1197, after the Norman Conquest. The Abbot of Chertsey decided to create it as an entity for Sampson de Horton, and separated it from his own holding in Epsom Manor. In doing it this way, both the Lordship and the manor still remained subordinate to the Epsom Lordship, however, for a while.
A challenge to the church
Surviving as a title through both the first and the second Barons’ Wars, by the early-14th Century Brettgrave was held by a gentleman called John Imworth. Records show that some time before 1327, John had granted the manor in fee to both his chaplain, Henry Gerard, and his chaplain’s illegitimate son, also called John.
When John Gerard died in 1346, there was a little bit of a rumpus. The Abbot of the time (also called John) decided to take possession of Brettgrave by process of escheatment – where the legal transfer of a subordinate lord’s assets occurs because the lord has died with no heir. A small group took exception to this, however. Nicholas de Tonstall, his wife Joan, and Thomas de Saye proceeded to take matters into their own hands with a little vigilante action. They raided Brettgrave’s crops, impounded the beasts from the Abbot’s plough, and generally gave him some grief, demanding that he renounce his rights to the Lordship. Not being faint of heart, John the Abbot fought might with the law and brought a suit against the trio. And in doing so, he not only then won his case, but he also confirmed that ownership of Brettgrave did, indeed, belong to him, for records indicate that he also received an award for damages too. Satisfied with his victory, the Abbot then obtained a licence from the Crown to grant Brettgrave to Guy do Bryan, the younger, such that it was held of the king in chief at a rent of 8s 3d.
Linking with Lancaster
Rather than making direct use of Brettgrave himself, De Bryan passed the land and title to John Gogh and the other clerks to Brettgrave manor in exchange for service in 1348; a process also then known as enfeoffing. In doing this, Brettgrave moved into the trust of Henry, Earl of Lancaster. Further records confirm this, for two years later they show Henry receiving a grant of free warren for the demesne lands of Brettgrave (i.e. because the lands were retained and managed by him). Then within another two years, Henry was created Duke of Lancaster and Brettgrave began to move further up in the world.
Connecting with a king
When Henry died in 1361 without a male heir, Brettgrave passed to his eldest daughter, Maud. At the time, Maud was married to the Duke of Bavaria. But when she died the following year, the title passed to her sister, Blanche, who was the wife of John of Gaunt, Earl of Richmond. Within months, John of Gaunt had been made Duke of Lancaster and Brettgrave’s royal links developed.
As Brettgrave continued to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers of the time, John of Gaunt’s son, Henry, who’d inherited John’s titles and estates in 1399, was also made Duke of Hereford. But he wasn’t content with that. Henry and Richard (the king) had been childhood playmates, but theirs was a strained relationship. The same year, Henry usurped his erstwhile friend and landed himself on the throne as Henry IV. Brettgrave officially became part of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Colourful characters for a Mynne
The War of the Roses came and went. Years ticked by. And sometime early in the 16th Century, Brettgrave was acquired by William Merston. William’s father, John, had been a personal attendant and courier to Henry IV and had held the lease as a tenant, so his son having access to acquire the fee simply is not a surprise.
Records then show Brettgrave passed quietly through several generations, until in 1626 it was held by John Mynne, and it’s at this point that its owner’s story takes some twists and turns.
To get himself out of a sticky financial situation, John Mynne sold Brettgrave to George Mynne. George, research reveals, was an interesting character. He’d made his money as a trader and served as an MP twice. However, he also had a tendency to find himself caught up in legal battles. An initial notable case being with the Admiralty Commission for refusing to allow saltpetre men to dig for salt on Brettgrave land. But that was the least of it. George Mynne was a bit of a pickle and he also found himself in hot water for taking excessive fees as Clerk of Hanaper in 1634. The Star Chamber (a court of the time that existed for cases that affected the interests of the Crown), found him guilty of over-charging for sealing charters, patents and writs, etc. and fined him £3,000. He was also summarily suspended from office. But his story doesn’t end there…
To add insult to injury, having sided with Parliament during the English Civil War, George Mynne then had his stock of iron and wire seized by Royalist forces in 1643. Being a man familiar with administrative proceedings, he chose to petition Charles I for his property to be returned; and promptly found himself imprisoned in Oxford. Charles did later approve payment for George’s supply of iron, but by then Parliament had classed him as delinquent and confiscated his estates. He wasn’t having much luck at that time.
Four years later, the wrangling was still going on, for George is recorded as recovering his property and paying a first instalment of a fine to Parliament. But he died the next year, and the headache passed to his namesake son, George. George younger died three years later with the estate issues of his father still unsettled. And the mess didn’t then get tidied up for another three years until George Junior’s daughters inherited his estate and it was amalgamated with Horton, which was also an Epsom parish. And since then it’s been quiet…
Yes, Brettgrave has been very quiet since then. But that doesn’t mean it’s not been there all the time. For we have now uncovered its history, tracked its provenance, and documented its authentic right to be transferred to a new pair of shoulders. And so at this point we have to ask… Could those shoulders belong to you? It’s seen some history… could you now make that part of yours?