In the autumn of 1706, James Montague of Lackham sent his workmen to cut down some trees on Bewley Common, an area of land that abutted both Lackham and Lacock Manors. This commonplace country activity elicited a furious reaction from his neighbour, Sir John Talbot, the Lord of Lacock. Talbot disputed Montague's right to fell the timber and retaliated by ordering his men to cut down all the remaining trees and remove the timber for his own use. Both parties insisted that they alone had the rights to the timber in accordance with established practice and ancient agreements, and the dispute rapidly escalated over the ensuing months.
In confronting Talbot, Montague had taken on a formidable opponent. Sir John Talbot was in his 77th year, had been a long-term and very active member of Parliament, championing many causes and generally featuring at the forefront of political life for most of the second half of the turbulent 17th century. He was a committed Royalist, Protestant and Soldier and had commanded a number of regiments at various times. He survived the Glorious Revolution, despite having two arrest warrants issued against him after 1689, and was never implicated in Jacobite unrest. In short, he was a fighter, survivor, and a man experienced in the ways of the world. By contrast, Montague, aged 33, had had limited military experience and had served only three years as a rather inactive MP. He had trained as a lawyer and was a local Justice of the Peace.
It appears that as the dispute grew, Montague had resorted to the law to resolve the respective rights of the Manors of Lacock and Lackham to Bewley Common, to recover damages for the timber he claimed to have been stolen from him, and to bring those involved in 'his' timber's removal to justice. Court hearing were held in late 1706 but proved inconclusive and a further hearing was scheduled for January 1707. In the intervening period, apart from a verbal altercation in Lacock church, Montague and Talbot addressed the problem in a series of increasingly acerbic letters, despite both declaring to not like conducting "paper disputes".