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Englefield House

NGLEFIELD is one of the most ancient and interesting manor houses. It is a Tudor building, and was quaintly described in 1663 as "a well-seated palace with a wood at its back, like the mantel on a coat of arms."

It has a central tower, a series of projecting bays and fine stone terraces leading to the grounds, and appears a conspicuous object from the Bath road. It was the seat of a Berkshire family, who claimed to have been settled in it for two centuries and a half before the Norman Conquest.

Englefield was the scene of one of the greatest contests fought between the Danes and Saxons. Here, in 871, the battle of OEscendum was fought between the Saxons under Ethelwulf, alderman of Berkshire, and the piratical Danes.

A lofty spirit seems to have possessed Ethelwulf, for when he addressed his forces before the fight, he said, "Though the Danes attack us with more men we may despise them, for our Commander is Christ the Lord."

The pagans were defeated, and two of their great sea earls slain on the Geld.

A long line of illustrious Englefields is recorded as serving their country in Parliament and in the field. One was controller of the household to Richard III., another was knighted at the marriage of Prince Arthur with Catherine of Arragon.

The estates were lost to the family by Francis Englefield in the reign of Elizabeth. Being a Roman Catholic, he became a zealous partisan of Mary Queen of Scots, and was attainted and convicted of high treason in the 28th year of Elizabeth, all his estates being forfeited to the queen.

By way of avoiding the danger, Sir Francis had ten years previously settled the manor and estate of Englefield on his nephew, with power to revoke the gift whenever he should tender to his said nephew a gold ring, thus reserving a possibility of reclaiming his property at some future time. Of course use was made of this arrangement in order to save the estates; but Elizabeth had a sharp way of settling such disputes. She caused a special Act of Parliament to be passed establishing the forfeiture of Englefield to herself and her heirs, and then, tendering a gold ring to the heir of Sir Francis (who dared not refuse it), she claimed the property. By this cunning device, Elizabeth stripped the Englefields of estates that had belonged to them for 780 years.

Sir Francis Walsingham then became, by grant of the Crown, the owner of Englefield. Soon, however, the property passed to the Powlets, and after his house in Hampshire had been burnt to the ground by Cromwell's Ironsides, Lord Winchester spent the remainder of his life at Englefield, and was buried in the parish church.

A pretty story belongs to the residence of the loyal Marquis at the manor. A younger son of his fell in love with the daughter of a yeoman, or farmer, living in the neighbourhood, and engaged himself to her. Lord Winchester at first objected to the unequal match, but was at last won to consent, on condition that the maiden should receive proper training for her future rank. This her family bestowed on her; grace and a wider knowledge were added to her simple beauty, and she became an ornament to the family she had entered.

Far happier than the lady of Burleigh, she accepted her position with quiet dignity, and she and her Cavalier lived happily together. Her portrait in the picture gallery justifies by its great loveliness the taste and choice of her husband.

Anne, daughter and sole heir of Lord Francis Powlet, only surviving son of the Marquis by his second wife, brought Englefield to the Rev. Nathan Wright, younger son of the Lord Keeper.

On the death of their son Nathan in 1789 the estate devolved to Richard Benyon, Esq., by the widow of Powlet Wright, elder brother of Nathan, last named.

The property is still in the possession of the Benyon family.

In the beautiful park, which abounds in deer, is the church, a gent of its kind, containing some noteworthy monuments, especially, as we have already said, that of the great Marquis of Winchester, who defended Basing House against the Parliamentary rebels. He died in 1674. The following lines by Dryden are inscribed on his monument:-

"He who in impious times undaunted stood,
And midst rebellion durst be just and good:
Whose arms asserted, and whose sufferings more
Confirmed the cause for which he fought before,
Rests here; rewarded by a Heavenly Prince
For what his earthly could not recompense.
Pray, reader, that such times no more appear,
Or, if they happen, learn true honour here.
Ark of this ages faith and loyalty,
Which to preserve them, Heaven confined in thee.
Few subjects could a king like thine deserve,
And fewer such a king so well could serve;
Blest king, blest subject, whose exulted state
By sufferings rose and gave the law to fate.
Such souls are rare, but mighty patterns given
To earth, and meant for ornaments to heaven."

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Picturesque England
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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004