The Danvers of Swithland Hall

Speaker: Anne Horton

15 October 2019

The Danvers of Swithland Hall was the subject for our October 2019 meeting. Speaker Anne Horton told us that according to a 1752 plaque in Swithland Church, the English branch of the family goes back to 1066, when Norman d’Alverse came to England with William the Conqueror. The history of the Swithland Danvers began in 1412 when Margaret Walcote, inheriting a half share in the manor of Swithland, married John Danvers of Shackerstone. The other half share of Swithland went through various hands until 1629, when Francis Danvers bought it up. Francis, d. 1631, is the first member of the Danvers family known to be buried in the Danvers Chapel of Swithland Church.

Another branch of the Danvers family, one of whom married into the Swithland Danvers, lived in Oxfordshire. From that branch we heard the stories of three brothers, of whom one was a traitor, another a murderer and the third a regicide. Charles, the traitor, was beheaded in 1601 on Tower Hill. Middle brother Henry, one-time page to Sir Philip Sidney, shot dead a neighbour’s servant, but was pardoned and went on to serve his country. He was made Earl of Danby by Charles 1. The third brother, John, was among the 59 men who signed the death warrant of Charles 1. He avoided punishment by dying before the restoration of the monarchy!

The Swithland Danvers were involved in England’s 16th/17th Catholic v. Protestant conflicts during Oliver Cromwell’s ‘Commonwealth.’ Henry Danvers (1622-87), a Baptist and a Fifth Monarchist, planned insurrections against both Oliver Cromwell and Charles 11. He escaped capture, however, and died in exile.

Joseph Danvers, Henry’s grandson, restored his family’s reputation and fortune. He extended his Leicestershire estates, acquiring, for example, both the Lordships of Mountsorrel and Thurcaston. In 1727 he enlarged the family burial chapel in Swithland church, though chose to be buried on the east edge of Swithland Churchyard, in the slate table-top tomb that still stands proudly today. No one knows why Sir Joseph chose burial there rather than inside the church. Perhaps he wanted to stand on his own land on Judgement Day! (The ‘dog legend’, incidentally, was a piece of 19th century imagination!)

Next came the eccentric and flamboyant Sir John Danvers. ‘He was remarkably fond, like the Chinese, of painting everything red: so much that every door, shutter and gatepost in the towns of Swithland and Mountsorrel was so decorated’. Sir John was responsible for moving the fifteenth century market cross from Mountsorrel to Swithland Park, replacing it with Mountsorrel’s Butter Market.

With no son to succeed him, Sir John married off his daughter Mary to an Irish teenager, Augustus Butler, requiring that he change the family name to ‘Butler-Danvers’. The marriage produced the necessary heir, Mary went to live in London, and Augustus lived with his mistress in Swithland, squandering money and selling off parts of the Swithland estate. Dying in poverty in Boulogne, he was succeeded by his sober and sensible son George John, who inherited the Earldom of Lanesborough in 1847. The 5th Earl tidied up the family finances, built the current Swithland Hall, as well as a new school building and many new cottages for his tenants in Swithland. His successors to the Earldom and to the Lordship of Swithland gradually became less Irish, more English and much poorer. When the 9th Earl died in 1988, without producing a son and heir, he had sold up Swithland Hall and moved to Scotland. Fortunately for the village, however, the Hall was bought by Mr and Mrs Page who have restored it to a beautiful family home.