A Lost Child Remembered – Elinor Lee 1635-1640

Trawling the Baptism Register for Lydiard Tregoze, local historian Frances Bevan recently discovered a surprising piece of forgotten information about the baptism of Elinor daughter of Sir [Francis] Henry Lee and his wife the Lady Ann.

‘Anne St.John famously didn’t care much for her Wiltshire childhood home at Lydiard Park, supposedly finding it rather dull.’ However, Frances’s discovery suggests it was to remain an important anchor in her life.

The daughters of Sir John St.John, 1st Baronet (d1648), The St.John tomb, South Chapel, St. Mary’s Lydiard Tregoze. Anne St.John Lee is the centre girl.

Anne went on to have a life that was anything but dull, acting as a spy during the English Civil Wars and supporting her second husband, Henry Wilmot, best friend of the exiled King Charles II. Anne was intelligent and shrewd, and protected her estates and fortune during those turbulent years of war. She was a formidable foe and an equally formidable friend, but are we missing something in her personality, a softer, sentimental side? Born on November 5, 1614, Anne was the eldest daughter of Sir John St. John 1st Baronet and his wife Anne Leighton. Young Anne was just 14 when her mother died but it would not be long before she too was looking for a husband.

On October 2, 1632, Anne married Sir Francis Henry Lee at St. Mary’s Church, Battersea close to her father’s London home, which she much preferred. Anne was approaching her 18th birthday, her young husband was just 16. This was a love match.

View Taken near Battersea Church looking towards Chelsea, 1752

A son Henry was born c.1633. In 1635 Anne was pregnant again and somewhat surprisingly returned to Lydiard to give birth. Did she bring her infant son Henry with her? Had motherhood revived memories of her own mother, drawing her back to her childhood home? Perhaps it didn’t seem quite so dull then, perhaps it was reassuring to be home. Her baby daughter Elinor was baptised at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze on September 17, 1635. Anne was pregnant for a third time when tragedy struck. Her husband Francis contracted smallpox and died in 1639. The following year her little daughter Elinor, born at Lydiard, died at the Lee home at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire. She was buried on August 27, 1640, at All Saints Church, Spelsbury.

These two deaths propelled Anne into battle. On the eve of England’s Civil War, she had to fight to keep her property, safeguard her sons and ultimately rescue her King.

You can read about Anne St.John, Lady Wilmot, in The Lydiard Archives and Written in Their Stars, the third historical fiction novel in The Lydiard Chronicles.

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