The first recorded owner of Thoresby Hall came to England with the Conqueror, and received the property from him. This was Robert de Pierrepont, who was doubtless a brave and distinguished knight, and had served William well at the battle of Hastings.
Robert de Pierrepont, the descendant of this knight, was created a baron by Charles I. in the first year of his reign, by the title of Lord Pierrepont of Holm Pierrepont, in Nottinghamshire, Viscount Newark, and soon after Earl of Kingston.
This nobleman was known in his life, and long remembered after death, as the "good Earl of Kingston." He was a cadet of the noble family to which he belonged, and yet had been rapidly advanced to an earldom by the favour of Charles. He was consequently warmly attached to his royal master. But he was a clear sighted man, good and tender to the poor, a lover, too, of freedom, and he could not help disapproving of many of the king's exacting and unconstitutional measures; at the same time, his sense of loyalty and gratitude and great personal affection for Charles 1. forbade his siding with the men who dared draw the sword against their sovereign.
He resolved, therefore, to remain neutral - as if at such a period it were possible! Men's passions were then at fever-heat, and the bitter spirit of party was at its worst.
The gentlemen of Nottingham were generally against the king's measures, and Lord Kingston had not kept his own disapproval of Charles's illegal acts secret. The republicans expected him to join their cause, and they were very angry when he refused to do so. They said he was bound in conscience to act as he thought, and to peril all worldly advantages for his country.
It was an evil hour just then for the republican party. Fairfax had been defeated at Atherton Moor. Essex and Waller were jealous of each other, and their cause suffered from their enmity. It became most desirable to win the moral and physical support of so good and distinguished a man as Earl Kingston.
Amongst them - indeed, one of their committee - was Captain Lomax, a very old friend of Lord Kingston. They deputed him, therefore, to call upon the earl at Thoresby Park, and to press him to declare for the Parliament.
The messenger acted courteously and argued impressively, recalling to Lord Kingston's memory the blame with which he had formerly spoken of the king's measures, and assuring him that a victory at the present moment over the sovereign would be the best thing that could happen to him, as it might check his power without endangering the throne. The earl listened much moved; he was agitated by strongly conflicting feelings, and as Captain Lomax ceased speaking, he started from his seat, raised his eyes and hands to heaven, and exclaimed passionately, - "When I take arms with the king against the parliament, or with the Parliament against the king, let a cannon-ball divide me between them."
The words thus solemnly uttered decided the republican captain to say no more, and he returned, disappointed, to his committee.
Time went on; the first successes of the Royalists were followed by defeats, the royal cause appeared declining, and King Charles's attached subject forgot his singular prayer and his prudent resolutions in tender sympathy with his royal master. More than once the real intentions of the Roundheads had become apparent, and doubtless disgusted him. He cast off his pacific determination, and joined the royal army with four thousand men. He was immediately appointed lieutenant-governor for the king of the five counties of Lincoln, Rutland, Huntingdon, Cambridge, and Norfolk, and did good service to Charles, devoting his fortune and hazarding his life in the royal cause. He was, unfortunately, surprised and taken prisoner at Gains. borough by Lord Willoughby, and sent off by sea in a pinnace to Hull. But a party of Royalists were in the neighbourhood, and hearing of the good earl's capture, pushed forward with all speed to rescue him.
They came up with the boat in which he was carried off, and demanded the liberation of the prisoner. Their demand was refused, and they at once began to cannonade the pinnace. The earl was below. Understanding the position of affairs, he rushed up on deck to stop the firing of the Royalists, but scarcely had he gained the deck when a cannonball struck him and cut him in halves, dividing him in the middle. Thus his hasty wish was fulfilled. He was divided by a cannon ball between the king and the Parliament.
Henry, his son and successor, inherited his titles and property, and for faithful services to Charles II. was created Marquis of Dorchester.
At the old house, destroyed in 1745, the celebrated Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was born. She was the daughter of Evelyn, Earl of Kingston, afterwards Marquis of Dorchester and Duke of Kingston. She was a very beautiful and attractive child, and her father was extremely proud and fond of her. He was a leader of fashion, and a violent Whig - one of the original members of the Kit-Cat Club. At a meeting of this club to choose toasts for the year, he named the little Lady Mary, then eight years old, as more beautiful than any of those ladies whose charms they meant to drink to; but the members demurred, saying that their rules forbade them to elect a beauty they had never seen. He said they should see her, and forthwith sent for her, ordering that she should be finely dressed.
The child soon appeared; she was received with acclamations, her health was drunk by all present, and her name en. graved in due form upon the glasses. The members of the club "consisted of the most eminent men in England, and Lady Mary went from the lap of one statesman, or patriot, or poet, to another, to be feasted with sweetmeats and overwhelmed with caresses."
Her father had her portrait taken for the club-room that she might be enrolled as a regular toast. As she grew up, however, the duke ceased to pet and spoil, and even neglected her.
She had a much-beloved female friend, Ann Wortley, the sister of Mr. Wortley Montagu. It was at this lady's teatable that the witty Lady Mary met this gentleman. He fell in love with her, and she accepted him, but the duke (he was then Marquis of Dorchester) quarrelled with Mr. Montagu about the settlements, and commanded his daughter to marry a suitor he had himself chosen for her. She refused; but her father persisted, ordered her wedding clothes, and named the day for the marriage. Then Lady Mary hurried out of his house and married Mr. Wortley Montagu, rather, perhaps, to escape from a husband she hated than to become the wife of one she loved. The marriage was not a happy one. Mr. Wortley left his young bride much alone in Yorkshire, but an appointment to a place in the Treasury obliged him to bring her to London and to court. Here she was greatly admired for her wit and beauty, and became intimate with Addison, Steele, Congreve, and Pope. In 1716 Mr. Wortley Montagu was appointed Ambassador to Constantinople, and took his beautiful wife with him. Lady Mary's letters from Turkey enchanted Pope and every one who read them; they are still thought masterpieces of epistolary style, and she is to England that which Madame de Sevigne is to France. She brought back with her from Turkey the secret of inoculation, and tried it on her own children with perfect success. It was a mighty boon to the English, so many of whose friends (as well as their Stuart princes) had died of that fatal complaint small-pox, and it was highly valued till Dr. Jenner discovered the still better preventive of vaccination.
In 1739 Lady Mary left England and her husband, and resided in France or Italy. It is supposed that Mr. Wortley had insisted on this exile from England, though nothing certain is known about it; for Lady Mary lived for twenty-two years abroad, but returned to England immediately after her husband's death. She survived her arrival in London only a year, dying in 1762.
She left two children - a most singular and probably half-mad son, and a daughter who was all that could be desired, and who married Lord Bute, the favourite minister of George III.
Lady Mary was a highly gifted woman, and her great abilities had had careful training. She was a good classical scholar, and very well read. Her wit and power of satire made her many enemies in her own class, and her quarrel with Pope drew on her the sarcasms of a far greater satirist than herself. In her Italian home she was much beloved by the peasants, whom she aided and taught, and her servants were fond of her, They had not cause to fear her bitter tongue, by which she had alienated her English friends. "There was genius as well as activity in her blood," says Leigh Hunt "The mother of Beaumont, the dramatist, was a Pierrepont, and, curiously enough, Lady Mary, in another Beaumont of Coleorton (the same stock), had a common ancestor with Villiers, the witty Duke of Buckingham, who was her great uncle. Henry Fielding, the novelist, was her second cousin."
Lady Mary had one brother, who died in his father's lifetime, and his son became the last Duke of Kingston. He was a kind, good man, though weak. He married Miss Chudleigh, one of the ladies of the Princess of Wales, afterwards Queen Caroline, George II.'s wife. Miss Chudleigh had been privately married previously to the Hon. Augustus Hervey, afterwards Earl of Bristol, and her trial for bigamy, after the duke's death, is one of the English causes celebres.
The earls of Manvers, now representing the Pierrepont family, descended by marriage from the duke's sister and heir, Lady Frances.