June 16, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Billesley Manor and the Trussells

5 min read

Any establishment can claim to be a 4-star hotel. What makes Billesley Manor different from the rest of the 4-star hotels in Britain? History! I am not referring to the 100-year-old Topiary Garden; though, from pictures I have seen, that would be worth the stay itself. When you arrive to this majestic manor, do not be fooled by the 17th century decor that accentuates the hotel’s structure. While there have been changes and upgrades over the last few decades, these and the 17th century renovations (including the rebuilding of the church, in 1689) are all “recent renovations.” It may seem odd that I clump together both renovations from the 21st and 17th century into the same category, but I am not quite sure that you understand exactly how old Billesley Manor is. Billesley Manor has a history that dates back to 705 AD. When you spend the night in Billesley, you are sleeping where several, significant historical events occurred. It was here that Shakespeare put ink to paper and wrote As You Like It, where the famous line “All the world’s a stage” is found. It was also home to one of the most highly regarded ancient surnames of England, the Trussells.

The Trussells were an interesting lot, so lets jump forward several hundred years to the Trussell’s arrival to Billesley. It was 1085, William the Conqueror conquered most of England and placed it under Norman control. In 1086, William sent out men to survey all his newly acquired land. William the Conqueror needed a census so he could properly tax the villages. These records were collected and transcribed into the Doomsday Book. It is here that records indicate the first person in possession of the property. The Doomsday Book shows that in 1066, Saxon Baldwin became the owner of Billesley Manor, and that in 1086, Osbern was the current tenant. These records also show that in 1086, the population of Billesley was 26; for this time period, a population of 26 was considered “rather large.”

Billesley Manor in the Domesday Book
Billesley Manor in the Doomsday Book, 1086

The way that the Doomsday Book reads, it implies that Osbern is the son of Hugh Trussell. If this is the case, this would be the first recorded instance of a Trussell at Billesley Manor. From 1086, to 1588, Billesley Manor would change hands many times, primarily through the Trussell family; however, there were instances where this was not the case. As some of the following events took place nearly one-thousand years ago, some of the stories–like a lot of early history–have been passed down for generations, with no tangible evidence.

Trussell Family Crest
Trussell Family Crest

Whether it was due to greed, unluckiness, or karma, the Trussells had several unfortunate obstacles to overcome in maintaining ownership of Billesley. The first in a long line of these events occurred in 1215. If you have a grasp on history at all, 1215 should instantly trigger a recall of an event, one of great importance. 1215 marks the start of men standing up for what they believe in, for freedom and independence. If it hasn’t hit you yet, 1215 was the year that King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta. An unnamed grandson of Osbert Trussell (not the previously mentioned Osbern), was in the group of English Barons that were involved in forcing King John to sign the Magna Carta. King John abruptly died after this, and his son, Henry III, forced Trussell to forfeit the Billesley estate as punishment for his part against his father. It is unknown how, but other members of the Trussell family were able to reacquire the property back, almost immediately.

Once again, in 1265, a member of the Trussell family was fighting against the monarchy and would jeopardize the family’s ownership of Billesley Manor. At the Battle of Evesham, the Trussells were not victorious, and once again were punished. King Edward I, son of King Henry III, took Billesley Manor once again from the Trussells. Again, another member of the Trussell family would regain the property rights to Billesley.

For several generations to come, the Trussells could look forward to a lush life at Billesley. It is important to understand that the Trussells were not your run-of-the-mill family. Before the Battle of Evesham, William Trussell was the Sheriff of Warwickshire. Generations later, his grandson, also William Trussell headed the delegation of Parliament that informed King Edward II that his reign was over and that his subjects were renouncing his majesty. With the following words, a Trussell ended the reign of one king, and started the reign of another.

I, William Trussell, proctor of the Earls, Barons and others, having for this full and sufficient power, do render and give back to you, Edward, once King of England, the homage and fealty of the persons named in my procuracy; and acquit and discharge them thereof in the best manner that law and custom will give. And I now make protestation in their name that they will no longer be in your fealty and allegiance, nor claim to hold anything of you as King, but will account you hereafter as a private person, without any manner of royal dignity.

Within twenty years of this swift and decisive action, another swift event would occur. Within a matter of two years, the Black Death would plague England and kill almost two-million people. Once the Black Death made its way through Billesley, only four people were left alive. Without the workers to continue farming, the Trussell’s took to raising sheep. Raising sheep proved to be not nearly as lucrative, and the Trussell family struggled financially. The family’s financial problems went from bad to worse after the War of the Roses, in 1485. Once again, on the wrong side of royalty, a Trussell had played with fire and lost. As King Henry VII took over, the Trussell family and Billesley Manor continued to decrease in stature.

In 1588, the Billesley estate would be lost for the last time. In complete despair, Thomas Trussell committed highway robbery and was caught. He was convicted and sentenced to death. The crown took the estate and sold it off. While being solely responsible for losing Billesley Manor, Thomas Trussell was fortunate enough to skip execution and lived for another fifty-two years.

Billesley Manor
Billesley Manor (Photo by: Richard Croft, copyrighted but licenced for reuse)

Overall, the Trussell family had a long run at Billesley. For those of you into genealogy, below is a family tree of Trussells. Those with asterisks (*) next to their name are those that were Lord of the manor. And for those of you into travel, the next time that you are near Warwickshire countryside, stop by and check out Billesley Manor. If you are a romantic, have your wedding at Billesley Manor. It is rumored that this is where Shakespeare married his wife, Anne Hathaway.

Trussell Family Tree

14 thoughts on “Billesley Manor and the Trussells

    1. I was a small child during the late forties early fifties do you have history of this period as my aunt and uncle lived in a cottage on the farm of billesley manor at this time

      1. Can’t help with 1940s or ‘50s, but in the 1970s it was owned for a chunk of time by the London Society figures Constantine & Anouska Hempel. Following the former’s death it was sold to a London businessman Ray Jones. Both were wealthy men, who ran it essentially as a private home with bedrooms to paying guests.
        Sadly, seems to have been downhill the last forty years.

  1. I really like what you guys are usually up
    too. This kind of clever work and reporting!
    Keep up the amazing works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my personal blogroll.

  2. What a great write up and just reading it makes me very proud of my surname. A lot of what’s mentioned is accurate and last weekend I was again lucky to stay there with my wife in the Sir William Trussell room and it was very surreal. One thing to add is that the ancient moat to the medieval Trussell manor house is still there today and the All Saints church is a delight !

  3. Thanks for the write up! I’m a direct descendent via my grandmother Irene Trussell who spent much of her life researching Trussell genealogy. I wish she could have lived to see a write up like this! I visited the manor house once and it is so lovely. It’s a long way from Texas : )

  4. I have a question about the pedigree you were kind enough to provide. The line descending from “WILLIAM = ROHESE …” goes to “MAUD dau and heir of WARIN MANWARING”, but, from context, it seems that WILLIAM and ROHESE are the parents of MAUD’s husband WILLIAM. Could you give me your interpretation? I’m new to reading pedigrees. Thank you.

  5. For any of you who are interested – The annual Trussell Reunion will be held at DeGray State Park Lodge July 30-31, 2016. Especially you, Stefani, since we have lost contact since your sweet mother’s passing. I and my sis are your dad’s second cousins. Irene was my dad’s first cousin. You may remember visiting at Lake Kiowa many years ago where your Aunt Vivian lived. My sis, Genevieve and I would love to hear from you.

    Those interested in Trussell Reunion can call DeGray near Hot Springs, Arkansas

  6. Awesome piece of history and to be a part of the namesake is pretty awesome too. My daughter in law did quiet a bit of research on the Trussell name and found most all of what this article is saying to be true. She took it back to (if I remember correctly) a couple of Trussell Bro’s that came from I think France to fight in a 10th century war to help one of the early kings of England. We are all in Texas but would love to visit the manor and can only imagine how those of you that have been lucky enough to visit must have felt.

  7. Fantastic addition to the genealogical records my uncle had been unofficially ‘in charge of’ keeping! Brought my son to Hastings (Battle) in 2016 for the 950th anniversary of the Norman invasion – seems William had a far more legitimate claim to the throne than Harold! In any case, want to make it to the estate someday & maybe even petition the crown to return it to me, lol! CRT

  8. I’d love to see where my branch of the Trussell family fits into this story.
    Does anyone have a connection between Billesley Trussells and one James Trussell born in Redruth in Cornwall in 1826 (or 1824), who went to South Australia with Colonel William Light in 1836? He married a Mary Ann Thomas who’d also come to South Australia. James was my great great grandfather. I’m hoping to come visit Billesley in June if I can raise funds for a trip.
    cheers Trussells!

  9. It would be nice to see the history of Billesley after it passed into the hands of the Earldom of Oxford, per Dugdale, in 22 H7.

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