Court Intrigue 17th Century Style: the Estcourts
Milbourne House on the outskirts of Malmesbury is a fascinating, rambling old 17th century mansion, almost bewildering with its maze of passages, staircases and changes in floor levels. In December several of us attempted to unravel its mysteries by delving into its myriad nooks and crannies, no mean feat as it is one of the larger buildings that Wiltshire Buildings Record has tackled in a while. We eventually found the central core of two rooms with a rear stair turret that had been built for John Estcourt in the mid-17th century. Looking into the history of the Estcourts reads like a modern-day soap-opera.
In ‘Past People’, June Badeni found that John Estcourt inherited a considerable amount of property on his father’s death in 1652, despite being only the fifth son. John Estcourt and his wife Sarah had no children and John felt ‘a particular kindness’ towards his nephew Edmund, the third son of his brother Sir Thomas of Pinkney. He took him into his house, promised to leave him all his real and personal estate, and conveyed estates to trustees for himself for life and then to Edmund and his heirs forever. As well as Milbourne, John had property in Malmesbury, Sherston, Willesley and Charlton.
Sarah Estcourt disagreed with this arrangement for the disposal of her husband’s property and when he died in 1666 she disputed the validity of his will, made in favour of his nephew Edmund in 1666, which superseded a previous will made in her favour in 1655. Other chancery cases followed when it later transpired that John had lent considerable amounts of money, for which he held bonds. His brother Richard gave evidence that he had visited John at Milbourne House for a business discussion, and found him ill.
On a later visit, Richard found his brother dead, and removed a duplicate will which he had found amongst John’s papers in his study. Sarah gave evidence that she had trusted Richard, but alleged that he removed bonds and securities, a cloak, a silver-handled sword, a pair of pistols and a gold signet ring. For his part, Richard denied that he had stolen these items, asserting that Sarah had given him the ring and pistols, that he had taken no bonds and that he was merely ‘holding’ the sword and cloak.
Chancery suits seem to have almost been a way of life for the Estcourt family, for after Sarah’s death in 1700 Edmund Estcourt brought a case against her near relative, Henry Nurse of Woodlands, alleging that Sarah and Henry Nurse had conspired to conceal a will and deeds of Sarah’s husband John, and defraud Edmund.
It appears that Edmund Estcourt won his case, as he came to live at Milbourne House, remaining there until 1711, when he died. The acrimonious disputes hadn’t stopped him from extending the house to include two new parlours, and perhaps a new kitchen at the rear.
Wiltshire Buildings Record