The Pembrokeshire Meyrick family links with Robert Deveraux

We look at the Pembrokeshire Meyrick family and must, for a moment, look at Lamphey Bishop’s Palace, an important and grand mansion and court, which for centuries belonged to the Bishopric of St Davids. Here, MARK MULLER tells us more about the family history.

This favorite haunt of bishops became the property of the prominent Elizabethan Devereux family following a major dispute between Sir Richard Devereux (1513-1547), MP for Carmarthenshire, and William Barlow (1498-1568), Bishop of St. Davids.

Episcopal Palace of Lamphey

Barlow, (before becoming bishop had been the hugely unpopular prior of the Augustinian Priory of St Mary and St Thomas at Haverfordwest) was responsible for the dissolution and sale of monasteries and church lands throughout much of the Land of Wales, in the name of Henry VIII in the 1540s. . We have however seen that he had broken up a large part of it and passed it on to his brothers, in particular the vast commandery of the Knights Hospitaller which became Slebech Park Estate.

To appease Richard Devereux, Barlow arranged to have the Lamphey estate granted to him.

Lamphey became the family seat of the Devereux family but Richard died very young. His son Walter married Lettice Knollys, granddaughter of Mary Boleyn (sister of Anne, mother of Queen Elizabeth) in 1562, and became Earl of Essex in 1572. Their eldest son, Robert Devereux became the second Earl of Essex at the age of 11. on the death of his father in 1576.

Placed under the tutelage of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth’s grand spymaster, Robert spent part of his time with the Cecils, but more and more at Lamphey, where, as soon as he was old enough, Gelly Meyrick was placed, first in the service of Sir George Devereux, Robert’s uncle, but in due course, as Robert’s steward. Thus began a close friendship that was described by contemporary chroniclers as an inseparable bond.

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Robert’s mother, Lettice, to Queen Elizabeth’s inconsolable anger, married Elizabeth’s long-time favorite and possible lover, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, (a suitor to both the hand of Elizabeth in marriage and to that of Mary Queen of Scots), which meant that although his mother was banished from court, Robert Devereux now had an even more powerful figure as his father-in-law than his father had been. (Huge rumors circulated that not only had Robert Dudley poisoned Walter Devereux, but that his own wife’s death, after falling down a flight of stairs, had also been “arranged.”)

Western Telegraph: Robert Deveraux (photo: Nicholas Hilliard via Creative Commons)Robert Deveraux (photo: Nicholas Hilliard via Creative Commons)

Robert Devereux’s rise and power steadily soared and by the time of his father-in-law’s death in 1588 he had himself become a favorite of Elizabeth, bringing wealth and power . Another irony in this story is that in 1590 Robert Devereux married Frances Walsingham, daughter of another of Elizabeth Francis Walsingham’s (1532-1590) great spymasters.

In his meteoric rise, Devereux took Gelly Meyrick with him. Through Robert Devereux, Meyrick was knighted in 1596, and had by then received Wigmore Castle, together with lands in Herefordshire, Manobier Castle and surrounding lands in Pembrokeshire, and was MP for Carmarthenshire . Now too, Meyrick was Devereux’s right-hand man, administering his estates in Wales and accompanying him on numerous military campaigns in Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Cadiz.

Western Telegraph: Model of Wigmore Castle, owned by Gelly Meyrick.  Image: Wikipedia via Creative CommonsModel of Wigmore Castle, owned by Gelly Meyrick. Image: Wikipedia via Creative Commons

Back in Pembrokeshire, the proximity of Meyrick, a Pembrokeshire man, and Devereux’s association with the earldom via Lamphey, meant that many, if not most, of the landed gentry supported whatever the Earl and Meyrick were engaged in. Sir John Perrot (1528-1592), one of the county’s leading figures, had now died awaiting execution in the Tower of London for, among other things, being heard to describe Elizabeth as ‘a low, bastard kitchen girl and pissing”, but his illegitimate son James strongly supported the Devereux faction, to the extent that Meyrick was elected MP for Pembrokeshire in 1597 even though he was away with Devereux in the Azores. But things were about to change drastically.

More next week.

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