Olive Sharington (later Olive Talbot and Olive Stapleton) was the daughter of Sir Henry Sharington, the second owner of Lacock who inherited the estate from his childless brother Sir William Sharington. Sir Henry Sharington had four children, including a son called William, but he died in infancy.
Therefore there was an inheritance issue in that his estates couldn’t pass to his eldest son. Sir Henry decided to split his estates equally between his three daughters Ursula, Olive and Grace (later Grace Mildmay). However, Ursula predeceased her father and on his deathbed he made a nuncupative will (a verbal will) leaving two thirds of his estates, the best lands he had, to Olive, and the worst third to Grace. According to Grace, she was not informed how close to death he was, and when she arrived at his house she found the judge and helpers quickly hiding all the books and parchment. She suggests that it was done secretly, with the encouragement of Olive who would end up benefiting much more than Grace. In her journal, Grace wrote:
“As soon as I had done my duty to my father I was carried out of his presence into another room where there came to me my mother and my sister and my uncle, my mother’s brother, one after another, to persuade me, and to comfort me in my sorrow for my father, that he was my good father and loved me and that all his care was for me more than for my sister. Wherein I was innocent and suspected no injury towards me, my conscience bearing me witness that I never deserved the same. At which time I desired to watch with my father and to lie in the house but I could not be permitted thereunto until they had effected all that business in hand, and after that I lay in the house and was entertained in all kindness, as though there had been no such matter and all well with me”.
When he was dying, according to Grace he apologised to her that she would have trouble with the lands.
The assumption made by historians is that it made more sense for Henry to leave the majority of his estates to Olive, because she was married with a son, and Grace had only a daughter. However, understandably Grace disputed the will and fought for her fair share of their father’s estates. Henry died in 1581 but the arbitration award was not granted until 1606, which shows just how long the dispute took to be resolved. However, it was resolved, and the decision was to split the estates between the two sisters more fairly. Grace took possession of Bowden and other estates, and Olive took possession of Lacock and various others. Olive remained great friends with Grace’s father-in-law, who helped her at times of difficulty when she married her second husband.
Olive married twice, the first time to John Talbot of Salwarpe who was related to the Earl of Shrewsbury, and the second time to Sir Robert Stapleton. Her first marriage was not approved of by her father, but she wanted to marry him anyway so she jumped from the battlements at Lacock to join him. This episode is recounted in Aubrey’s Brief Lives. Aubrey was a friend of Olive’s grandson Sharington Talbot. He writes:
“Discoursing with him one night from the battlements of the abbey-church, said she, I will leap down to you: her sweet heart replied, he would catch her then: but he did not believe she would have done it: she leaped down and the wind, which was then high, came under her coats: and did something break the fall: Mr Talbot caught her in his arms, but she struck him dead; she cried out for help, and he was with great difficulty brought to life again: her father told her that since she had made such a leap she should e’en marry him”.
Olive and John Talbot had many children, including Sharington Talbot whose son Sharington eventually inherited both his parents’ many estates. Sadly, John died in 1581, very young, leaving her suddenly a widow. She married Sir Robert Stapleton three years later. He was a knight with a lot of influence, who was a politician and lived at an estate in Yorkshire called Wighill. The two of them ran the estates and Olive remained Lady of the Manor of Lacock as well as presumably taking on her new husband’s estates. She did not have the responsibility of the estates left by her first husband, which included Salwarpe in Worcestershire, as by John Talbot’s will it had passed directly to his eldest son.
Sir Robert Stapleton died in 1604 leaving Olive once again a widow and this time with even more children. However, this time she did not remarry. Having set herself up as the Lady of the Manor, and with her sons now setting themselves up in other estates such as Salwarpe, she remained a widow until her death in 1646. She continued to play a big part in the running of her estates and was very involved in Lacock. She gave hospitality to travellers, including royalty, at Lacock Abbey and from the estate records it seems she had a lot of interest in the abbey and the estate.
Olive’s signature is on a number of deeds and other legal and manorial documents at the History Centre, as part of the Lacock archive. The most important document is the arbitration award which details the splitting of estates between Olive and her sister Grace.
The document below is a copy of Olive's will.
Olive was a very influential local woman, and very prominent. Impressively, she lived to the age of 96!
We don’t know for certain if the National Trust holds a portrait of Olive. There is one, but it could actually be of Grace Mildmay. It is on display in Lacock Abbey.