Perched on a hill overlooking the River Trothy in Monmouthshire, Troy House was built in the late seventeenth century as a wedding present for Charles Somerset by his father, Henry Somerset, first Duke of Beaufort. A magnificent house with a neoclassical façade and three striking Jacobean painted ceilings, Troy House remained in the Somerset family until the end of the nineteenth century, when it was auctioned off and eventually turned into a convent school. This richly illustrated book tells the story of the house, its owners, and its architecture, showing how the house and the landscape around it were transformed by the house’s owners over the centuries to suit fashion and reflect their influential positions at court.
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About the Author
Ann Benson is an independent researcher who has worked as a consultant to the British cabinet.
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A Tudor Estate Across Time
By Ann Benson
University of Wales PressCopyright © 2017 Ann Benson
All rights reserved.
Troy House Estate: an Enigma
AT FOUR IN THE MORNING on 13 July 1698, Rebecca, Marchioness of Worcester, wrote to her mother-in-law, the first Duchess of Beaufort, from her cousin's house at Llanrothal (now on the Herefordshire border):
I am under so much trouble and concern for my Lord that I scarce know what I write [.] my lord came heather yesterday to church [.] thare was 3 dyed the day before of the small pox and that distemper being so much in the town we have not bin thare this 3 weekes [.] we went from hence soone after 7 in the evening desineing [designing] to return to troy [in Monmouthshire] but it pleesed God the horses turning to short the coachman was flung out of the box [.] the horses run a way down a hill and over turned the coach before the postillian could stop them and my Lord apprehending the danger we ware in jumped out of the coach [.] the coach wheel mised him very narrowly [.] he has brused his thigh very much but Dr Tyler who is with him hopes thare is nothing out [.] my Lord is very faint [and] complaines much of a sickness in his stomake and has had yet but an ill night'.
Rebecca's 'Lord' is her husband of some sixteen years, Charles Somerset, Marquess of Worcester, the only son and heir of Henry, first Duke of Beaufort. Rebecca's letter continues with her asking for the duke's doctor to hasten from Badminton House to see Charles at Llanrothal. As was the fashion for the period, Charles had been let blood at midnight by Dr Tyler. Whether the duke's doctor arrived to see Charles is unknown but he died later that day.
Charles's death is pivotal in the history of the Troy House estate. From this point, Troy largely ceased to be occupied by members of the Somerset family; Badminton House remained the duke's family seat whilst stewards were installed at Troy to manage its various components. The duke had spent generously on aggrandising Troy House to make it reflect his family's status, and Charles and Rebecca had made it their family home. However, it had primarily served as the duke's administrative centre from which Charles oversaw the family's extensive Welsh holdings. The estate became largely frozen in time from Charles's death and it would be another two hundred years before an ancestor of the first duke would reside again for any length of time at Troy. Chapter 2 traces its succession of subsequent owners as well as revealing what went before, but first, a tour of what can be seen today.
The estate lies 1.6 kilometres south of Monmouth on the border of Monmouthshire with Gloucestershire (OS SO 509 113) in south-east Wales. The river Trothy forms the northern boundary of the estate: this river comes within some ninety metres of the house where it splits into two streams to form two islands, and then resumes as one course before leaving the garden area. The Welsh form of Trothy is Troddy, which derives from 'trawdd', meaning course, and that of this river is very winding. The -dd- is more likely to have disappeared in Welsh from Troddy than the -th- from Trothy. Of all the possible reasons for the estate's name, the most plausible is that it derives from the nearby river. In medieval documents the estate is also referred to as 'Little Troye' and 'Troy Parva'.
The influential Welsh Herbert family owned the estate during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This was followed by three hundred years of continuous ownership by the Somersets. Henry Somerset, who occupied Troy House during the late 1660s, was elevated to the title of Duke of Beaufort in 1682. When the ninth Duke of Beaufort put the 675-hectare estate up for auction in 1901, some lots remained unsold, leading to another auction in 1919 and, thereafter, a succession of owner-occupiers of its different parts. Currently, it consists of three main components each under separate ownership: Troy House, together with several buildings from the 1960s, all surrounded by grassed areas extending to the river Trothy; a walled garden of some 1.6 hectares with three modern residential buildings set within its original stone perimeter walls to the west of the house; and, very close to the house, Troy Farm, which is a working dairy farm with the remains of walled gardens, surrounding pasture and extensive woodland.
Current access to the house, farm and the east end of the walled garden is down a track leading off the road (B4293) between Monmouth and Mitchel Troy. Troy cottage lies at the junction of the track with this road. Built in the picturesque cottage orné style, the cottage is listed as Grade II. Although now a private residence, during the nineteenth century it was the entrance lodge to Troy House. The track terminates at Troy Farm; at a point some two-thirds along its length it crosses two branches of the river Trothy by two stone bridges some four metres apart, close to a gated entrance to Troy House. Cadw, the Welsh government's historic environment service, list the square gate piers of banded sandstone ashlar and the pair of full-height wrought-iron gates as Grade II and of probable eighteenth-century construction.
Only part of the house can be seen through these gates and it is that which is most often shown and written about in the few publications that exist for the Troy estate. This section was constructed 1681?4 and, as it faces north, hereafter will be referred to as the north range. It is joined on its south side to other buildings, which are also part of Troy House, but these are very rarely mentioned in any publication. Even the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) on its website, Coflein, focuses on the Carolean part of Troy House when it states that:
Troy House [...] is a 17th century stone building of 3 storey [sic] and dormers. It has a hipped slate roof. The central portion is forward with a pediment. The interior includes fine plaster work and panelling. It was the seat of Dukes of Beaufort.
Similarly, Cadw list the house as a Grade II * building 'constructed in classical style about 1660-70, for the Marquess of Worcester', and in so doing, again refer only to the north range. The house remains substantially unchanged from the seventeenth century but is in a state of disrepair and the surrounding land is somewhat overgrown. Both have been the subject of a planning application for residential development since 2008. The application has not been favourably received by the authorities and as of 2016 remains unresolved, whilst the building continues to decay. A caretaker resides in a small, west portion of the house, which in previous centuries was the abode of the chief steward of the Duke of Beaufort's Welsh estates; otherwise, the house is unoccupied, as it has been since the late 1990s.
Several buildings erected during the 1960s lie close to the house. These were commissioned by an order of nuns, who owned and managed the house as a school for girls from 1904 until 1977, and include a chapel, cloisters, teaching block, theatre, hostel, garage and a covered netball court. They are shown together with the historic house (black) and nearby Troy Farm in a ground plan (Figure 1.4). The historic house appears like a capital letter T, where the Carolean north range lies across the top of the T, and, as will be argued below, the house becomes progressively older towards the base of the T. When the nuns sold the house to the current owner in 1977, it was unoccupied for a few years and then leased for use as a special school for boys until 1991, during which time no additional building or landscaping took place.
The track continues past Troy House gates. After some sixty metres, steps can be seen on the right leading up to a small ornamental stone building with a centrally placed door. This opens onto the walled garden, which Cadw date as being from the seventeenth century. They list this garden as II * due to the ornamental entrance and surviving stone walls with bee boles. This garden area is under well-kept pasture with some old fruit trees. The three residential buildings set against the south wall of this garden are each associated with a portion of its land, and that running against the west wall contains a small cemetery, created by the nuns during their ownership.
The track continues past the walled garden's ornamental entrance and after another twenty-three metres it splits into two. One branch continues for a few metres before terminating at farm barns; the other curves to the left immediately behind Troy House to enter the farmyard of Troy Farm (Figure 1.6). The farm is still worked, although the stone and red brick walls of its gardens and orchards are in poor condition. This ground has not been cultivated since the mid-twentieth century. The surrounding pasture and woodland remain largely unchanged since the estate was owned by the eighth Duke of Beaufort in the nineteenth century.
Three connected areas of woodland, shown as Livox Wood, Troypark Wood and Troy Orles on the current OS map, form a long, thin band on top of a ridge that slopes to the east and south of Troy House and the Farm (Figure 1.7). Cadw identify an ice-house and a small ruined building as structures within the farmland. The former is overgrown and damaged by a landslide and, due to encroaching ivy, the roof has been lost from the latter. This is speculatively recorded by Cadw's inspector for parks and gardens as a 'game larder', largely due to 'a long-dead sheep inside' being 'mummified at the time of the visit'. However, this is an unlikely purpose for the building, given its considerable distance from the house, and it is shown in chapter 6 to have been a rare conduit house. Although much of the former parkland, now agricultural, has been excluded from the area on Cadw's register, 'the boundaries of this character area have been extended to include the icehouse and "game larder" as they are deemed to be closely associated with the house'.
The history of the Troy House estate is under-researched and under-represented in the literature. The descriptions provided by Cadw, RCAHMW and the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust (GGAT), which covers the Troy House estate area, are brief and rely on surveys now decades old (Appendix 1). There are also several anomalies in the descriptions assigned to some of the components of the estate by various agencies. The RCAHMW made a visit to parts of the estate in my company in December 2015, when several photographs were taken. It is hoped that the new insights this provided will eventually find their way into RCAHMW documentation.
A way forward
When the estate was broken up in 1901, lying as it does on the border between Wales and England, archival material was distributed across Welsh and English county record offices. A large amount of material was also sent to the National Library of Wales (NLW), where it is held as the Badminton Special Collection. This scattering of archival material with no overall referencing system may in part account for the dearth of published information on the estate's history. Little use has been made of these primary documentary sources or the Duke of Beaufort's family archives at Badminton House for researching Troy. Also, hardly any map regression or archaeology have been conducted on the estate's components. Consequently, the history of Troy is an enigma, despite its connections to historically significant people and Troy House itself being described as 'one of Wales' finest late seventeenth-century country houses' and 'a very important building within the county [Monmouthshire] and indeed Wales'. A multi-method approach that brings together the existing research but also incorporates a more diverse source of information appears overdue for investigating the history of Troy.
Estate building and landscaping activities are most likely to occur when two conditions exist simultaneously: the owner has sufficient wealth to implement his desired plans, and there is social stability to enable culture and fashion to flourish without the pressures of war and other disruptive forces. If the ownership history of the Troy estate could be established, then it might be possible to know when building and landscaping are most likely to have occurred. Given that few garden features are extant at Troy, the architectural history of the house is also fundamental for a better understanding of how its surrounding landscape has changed over the years. For example, principal reception rooms generally overlook key garden areas; a room known to have existed in the Tudor period would most likely have overlooked a garden styled in the Tudor fashion. Knowing the location of such rooms across time would support a consideration of how the surrounding land has also been refashioned. Furthermore, given the closeness of the gardens to the east and south of the house to those of the farm (Figure 1.2), they should be considered together, as the boundary between the two may have changed with time.
The publications of Cadw, RCAHMW and GGAT offer their descriptions of the house, farm, gardens and parkland in a discrete manner with few cross-references to features within these different estate components. Adopting a more holistic approach to researching the estate can not only enrich what is understood about its separate parts but, in addition, illuminate how these may be interrelated and were used by those who lived and worked there.CHAPTER 2
A History of the Estate's Ownership: Identifying the Key Periods of Estate Development
THE INTENTION here is not to provide a complete line of ownership of Troy across the centuries as one owner handed over to another. Rather, priority is given to identifying the historical significance of those who have owned and lived at Troy within pertaining political and social contexts. Simultaneously, the periods during which the estate is most likely to have undergone building and landscape development due to the nature and circumstances of its owners, are highlighted.
From the eleventh to the early fifteenth century
As Paul Courtney notes, the Norman lords who invaded and conquered Wales assumed the extensive rights previously enjoyed by their predecessors, the Welsh princes. Marcher lords were bound to support the English king during war but reaped the benefit of exemption from royal taxation and had many rights usually held by the Crown. The lordships served as both sources of revenue and independent bases of power, as Marcher law was governed by local custom, not by the royal courts as in England. Consequently, they attracted leading English aristocratic families.
Few documents survive from the eleventh and twelfth centuries to provide an understanding of how individual Marcher lordships functioned. As in England, manors varied in size but commonly consisted of a hall, land worked for the lord's profit (demesne) and tenant land. A distinction was made between 'demesne manors', directly managed for the Marcher lord's profit, and the knights' fees, held by his knightly (or feudal) sub-tenants. Their administration was centred on castles with a variety of persons responsible for specific types of activities. By the end of the reign of William Rufus (1087-1100) the royal lordship of Netherwent (lower Gwent) covered a vast territory. This was later subdivided into the lordships of Chepstow, Tryleg, Usk and Caerleon. A map of the lordships c. 1170 shows Troy within the lordship of Usk but very close to the boundary of that of Monmouth, which before 1066 lay within Archenfield, an area held by the Saxons and bounded by the rivers Wye and Monnow. In contrast to the rest of Archenfield, Monmouth shows no sign of the devastation caused by the Welsh raids of 1055.
In his History of Monmouthshire, Joseph Bradney notes that 'the manor of Troy Parva was held of the lords of Usk by half a knight's fee, and is first mentioned as having been the seat of Sir Alexander Catchmay'. Catchmay sounds like an English surname and it is tempting to suggest that, like other Englishmen of the time, he was an aristocrat attracted by the power and profit associated with the emerging Marcher lordships as a career opportunity. Bradney also states that he was a companion of Hamelin (Hamelin de Ballon, b. c. 1060, d.1105/6) who was from the Maine area of France. Hamelin came to England with the Conqueror and was rewarded with lands in Cornwall and south-east Wales. The latter was to become part of the Welsh Marches and Hamelin was charged with its speedy, successful conquest and management. After receiving the lordship of Over Gwent from King William Rufus, he established the castle at Abergavenny about 1075. It is possible that as a companion of Hamelin, Alexander Catchmay was also rewarded with lands and these included the area of Troy; he might also have held these lands by half a knight's fee. Bradney states that Alexander left an only daughter and heir, Jane (b. c. 1030), married to Sir Alan Scudamore, whose son Sir Titus Scudamore is styled Lord of Troy and Bigsweir.
Excerpted from Troy House by Ann Benson. Copyright © 2017 Ann Benson. Excerpted by permission of University of Wales Press.
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Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgements ix
List of Figures xi
List of Abbreviations xv
1 Troy House Estate: an Enigma 1
2 A History of the Estate's Ownership: Identifying the Key Periods of Estate Development 13
3 Troy House: a Building History 73
4 Troy House Gardens: Location and Nature Across Time 111
5 The Walled Garden West of Troy House 145
6 Key Built Features of the Estate's Fieldscape 167
7 Troy House Estate: its Historical Significance 181
Appendix 1 Troy's History: the Existing Literature, 2015 187
Appendix 2 The Somerset Family Tree 192
Select Bibliography 195