1600 – 1652 Jane Lyttleton (1600-1652) of Frankley, Worcestershire (Jay Cool’s 5th cousin 10 X removed via her paternal line; and mother-in-law of 1st cousin 1X removed via maternal line); daughter of John Lyttleton, MP for Worcestershire (1561-1601)
A groom had been chosen and the marriage date set. Muriel Bromley, widow of my 4th cousin and lots of times removed, Judge John Lyttleton, congratulated herself on the deal. With such a taint on the family, it had been no easy feat to secure a suitable match for her daughter, Jane.
Poor John. Poor, sad John. A man of conviction until the end. A passionate man. Passionate to a good cause and a passionate husband. Muriel still cherished the letters he’d penned in his prison cell, letters full of love, but never of regret. For John, a true Catholic, had died on behalf of a cause he’d believed in.
Highly educated, John had viewed negotiation as the first step towards change; hence why he’d been a spirited member of his friend Sir Robert Devereux (my 4th cousin 11X removed), the Earl of Essex’s strategic-planning group at Essex House. But, having failed at the let’s gather around-a-table-and-have-a-good-bitch stage, cousin John had been completely justified in stepping up the pressure.
But blood is thicker than water and, because my good man John knew that one-day he would be related to his good friend Robert, via his descendant Jay Cool, he was loyal. Henceforth, cousin John Lyttleton stayed steadfast at his almost-soon-be-cousin Robert’s side throughout the Essex uprising.
Inevitably, and much to Muriel’s sorrow (in public, at least!), my cousin John was captured by Queen Elizabeth’s (who just happens to be Jay Cool’s 3rdcousin 13 X removed) army and tried for treason. Muriel, a clever negotiator in her own right, eventually secured her husband’s pardon, with some help from a family friend, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the small matter of a £10,000 security.
But the Queen’s bench prison was no place for my cousin, John. And, already weakened from interrogation, he soon met his maker (At this point, I really ought to cry, because it’s only right and proper to be upset when a cousin dies, but I didn’t know him and I am, in any case, heartless, so this will have to suffice -> 💀 -> 👵 -> 💃-> 😂).
Muriel found it easy to fathom why her husband, John, such a good man, had fallen prey to the charms of Robert Devereux, a hot-headed (and as of 1601, headless!) man of impulse. Okay, so perhaps Robert was more-than-a-little-greedy with maintaining his monopoly on the sweet wine trade. But why would any decent alcoholic fault him for that? And surely it was true that any normal human being would offer themselves up as Robert’s doormat, after just at a single glance from the big handsome brute. But, still, there must have been an better way of protecting Devereux’s trade, than plotting to oust the Queen’s trusty Parliamentary advisors. But, it was not for Muriel to reason why. She was just a woman.
And, as a woman, it was down to Muriel to wade through the aftermath, or to sift through the debris. It was fortunate Muriel was not without charm herself. Once Queen Elizabeth was out of the way (Muriel’s particular charms had not worked on her!), her successor, James I had seen fit to re-instate John’s estates to the Lyttleton family of Frankley. It had taken Muriel some time, and a second marriage to John Stapleton, but now that all of the family debts were cleared, the Lyttleton children, raised by Muriel as Anglicans, were in a much-improved position.
Sharington Talbot (Jay Cool’s 6thcousin 10X removed), was indeed a fine catch for Jane. His breeding was indisputable. Sharington was the son of Sharington Talbot the elder (of Layton, Wiltshire) and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Leighton. Muriel felt proud. The deal had been brokered just in time, for her daughter, Jane, at the age of twenty-six, was minus a few teeth and had almost reached the end of her shelf life.
But my Jane, my paternal cousin and maternal in-law, wasn’t so sure. Not only was she not so sure, she was a downright nervous wreck. She shook so much at the thought of being married, that restraints were necessary (to ensure the retention of, at least, her front teeth until the wedding ceremony). Poor Jane Lyttleton was as terrified as her mother, Muriel, was excited.
It was not that Sharington Talbot wasn’t handsome; his looks were fine enough. No, the problems lay elsewhere. My cousin Jane was well-read, educated and intelligent (not a unique phenomenon in Jay Cool’s family tree!); her mother had arranged for her to be tutored by the best, just as her late father, an Oxford man, would have wished. It was just that, in spite of being in possession of a tall frame and regal appearance, Sharington had hard eyes.
An educated woman with a telepathic grip on the future, could tell a lot about someone by their eyes, even before the advent of social medial platforms. And my cousin, Jane, a true opportunist, had been brazen enough to look into Sharington’s eyes, when he’d grabbed her for a giant smackaroo. But she’d seen nothing. Nothing at all.
It hadn’t been possible to see inside, to see down Sharington’s tubes and into his heart. His eyes were impenetrable, hard and mean, like the hardest shells on uncrackable nuts. To put it quite simply, cousin Jane found that she did not love him. She doubted that she ever would, doubted even that there was anything there to love.
Perturbed, Jane conducted her own investigation into Sharington’s background. He was a character of a seemingly
respectable breed. His father, another Sharington Talbot, was a very well-respected Parliamentarian, and MP for Chippenham; and it was said that he’d given generously to the poor. For the elder Sharington had inherited the kindly and hospitable ways of his mother, Olive Sharington. Olive’s reputation as a hostess had even tempted royalty (who very rarely admitted that they were in need of handouts) to stop by to dine with Olive and her sister, Grace, at their home in Laycock, Chippenham.
But Jane – she was more that! She was more than the Sharington sisters. Like all of the ladies connected with Jay Cool, Jane had been brought up to think, to engage and to discuss – not to be an organizer of servants and catering arrangements. Would her husband-to-be, Sharington, expect her to follow in the tradition of the ladies in his family? Or was she doing him a dis-service in assuming that he was not the sort of man to be interested in her opinions on religion and politics?
One could do worse, cousin Jane supposed, than be anxious over the thought of having to adopt the charitable skills of kindly late in-laws, but that wasn’t the real issue. No, it was not for that that Jane now sported dark-ringed eyes, the tell-tale sign of sleepless nights of angst. For Jane held a suspicion that the mean-ness and hard-ness, on full display in Sharington’s eyes, came – not from his paternal grandmother – but, rather, as an inherited trait from his maternal grandfather.
For Sharington’s mother was Elizabeth Leighton, none other than the daughter of Sir Thomas Leighton and Elizabeth Knollys.
It is necessary, here, to take a break in proceedings to point out to those not-already-in-the-know, that Sir Thomas Leighton is the shared ancestor of the royal highnesses Prince William and Kate Middleton. As the Daily Mail, a highly reliable news source, quite rightly highlighted – William and Kate are, indeed ‘kissing cousins’! This news might be quite shocking to some – the thought of kissing a cousin is not at all pleasant – but, to me, to Jay Cool, this news is a revelation. This news might well be the turning point of my life; it may be the start of my rise from rags to riches. For this news does indeed mean that I, Jay Cool, that I am a rightful claimant of the English crown jewels. Take that, Gangsta Granny! I don’t need to sneak into the Tower of London via the sewage pipes. I can walk straight on in there to claim my lot. Stand aside, cousin Kate!
But, I’ll save that little trip until later because, back in 1570, Sir Thomas Leighton, a zealous Anglican, had been appointed Governor over the predominantly Calvanist islanders of Guernsey and, as such, had ruled without compassion, imposing high taxes, and starving the islanders of any financial securities in a without-fear-of-consequences bid to strengthen the fortifications of Castle Cornet. Leighton had a vampire-ish fettishfor fresh blood, even blood from lowly sources!
Take the case of the pauper, Tom Smith, dragged off the streets to face punishment without trial – not for begging – but for blaspheming! Dragged away by his only toe (the others had been subjected to amputation-by-owner, in a bid to increase Tom’s takings), to face a cruel and gruesome end as he fell victim to Leighton’s favourite method of punishment – flogging followed by ear cropping. Leighton was well aware that Queen Elizabeth deemed the milder punishment of left ear branding more the thing for a first offence, but he was ambitious and keen to make an impact. Tom’s ears were the sticky-out kind and ripe for the picking. Leighton ordered his men to nail the ears to the stocks, and after three days, as a charitable act to release Tom from agony, the ears were cropped off. And Tom, now neatly presented with clean, if somewhat-bloodied lines, dropped dead! On a positive note, though – there were, at least, no more incidents of vagrancy.
Leighton, fond of an extended challenge, and particularly partial to a good old game of human skittles, was gutted.
It was this hand-me-down lack of ‘compassion’ that Jane Lyttleton had seen in the hard-nut eyes of her husband to be. And she was not without sound judgement of character. Sharington Talbot proved to be an unstable husband to our Jane. With her own father, so cruelly taken away from her, before she’d barely even taken her first few steps into the world, Jane needed to be loved. She needed a man’s love. But Sharington was a man’s man – a man who needed to be out on the field, out taking part in the action, not taking part in the discussion. Where there was conflict, Sharington went head on into the scrum.
Today, Sharington, would be better catered for. I can see the young Sherrington, now, out on the rugby field as his local sport’s college, effing and blinding, and groping out for the ball – for any ball, be it constructed of leather and stitching or of human flesh. Sharington would be in there. He’d be in his element.
It was as well that Jane’s husband, Sharington Talbot the younger, a Royalist sympathizer, chose to start married life, not in his ancestral home of Laycock Manor, but in Salwarpe, Shropshire. Because, in the winter of 1644, Laycock came under the occupation of Parliamentary forces, and from henceforth became the centre of a table tennis tournament as the Royalists seized it back, only to become a repeat target as the Parliamentary troops went in for a retake.
And herstory repeated itself for the unfortunate Jane Lyttleton. A mother of three surviving children, finally resolved to an interminable life of playing host and childbearer, she found herself, not only the daughter of, but the wife to a convict. When Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham, who should have been there by his side, but his witless Colonel Sharington?
In 1644, Jane’s husband, Sharington Talbot the younger, was taken prisoner by Parliamentarians in Warwick Castle, from whence he was transported to London for his trial and sentencing. His properties were confiscated; Jane and her children were homeless. But Jane was, after all, more of a Bromley than a Lyttleton, and thanks to her mother
s financial prowess, was able to buy the Sharington properties back from Parliament for a measly sum of £2,011. Jane might have not unreasonably hoped to be left to continue her remaining years in peace as a widow, free from husband-induced debt and incumbrances. But, in consideration of his family, who could not possibly survive without his mortal presence, Sharington Talbot was released upon payment of a £1,000 fine.
Jane need not have feared. Sharington gave up his schoolboy ways and settled to a career of tree management. He turned out to be not quite so averse to focused study after all, becoming an expert on all species of trees. It is likely (according to a highly credible source!) that the origins of this new tree-obsession lay in a seed of jealousy planted in the family’s genes by nobleman Helier.
Back in the days when Sir Thomas Leighton had ruled over the Guernsey Islands, bleeding the locals dry of cash, the said Signeur Helier de Cataret had engaged the people of Sark in a clever scheme of land clearance, assisting them in parceling up the fields into family-sized plots, on which to build homes and plant crops. Not deterred by the lack of trees on Sark, Helier even made a business out of importing timber for the house building. According to local legend, even Helier’s wife, Helen, joined in and got her hands dirty chopping and chiseling.
Thanks to Helier and his devoted wife, the islanders of Sark became self-sufficient and less pliable, even managing to plant themselves in with a few fruit trees of their own. And it was all just-about-already too much for Leighton to cope with, when to top it all off, Helier was rewarded generously for his services by Queen Elizabeth. Leighton was livid!
From that moment on, visions of treeless landscapes haunted the nights of Sir Thomas Leighton in which he struggled to hold onto the last blades of grass, as powerful winds threatened to clear him out for good. But, always he held on. And always, in the face of adversity, would his sons and his grandsons, also hold on.
But, if one was going to keep on going, when affected by post traumatic stress, it was important to have something a little more firmly rooted than a few blades of grass to hold onto. Once home, once safe and dry, and out of captivity, Sharington wouldn’t be going anywhere. His trees took root and Sharington took root. Jane Lyttelton considered taking flight, but with Sharington occupied in his own tree-filled estates, she took herself off and inwards, taking sanctuary in her library of books. Her peaceful sanctity only disturbed on one occasion when James I and his crew, descended upon the Talbot household for a week of pampering. They had been lured in by stories of Talbot generosity; stories spread-by-bored-and-listless servants. Needless to say, James I did not make a return visit.
Sharington climbed up his best tree and stayed there. And Jane, in a very-unladylike-fashion, crawled back into her cave of books.
I have no doubt at all that it is thanks to Sharington that one of my first books was the Collin’s Gem guide to ‘Trees’. It still graces my bookshelves and, one day, I may even read it.
Sources referred to during Jay Cool’s research:
The image of Kate and Will is a ‘creative commons’ image provided by dreamstime.com. (It comes to something, when I have to obtain permission to use a pic of my cousins!)
The image of John Lyttleton is in the ‘public domain’.
Disclaimers: Please refer to Jay Cool’s ‘About the Author’ blog post.