Sir John Lethbridge, 1st Baronet

Canting arms of Lethbridge: Argent, over water proper, a bridge of five arches embattled gules and over the centre arch a turret in chief an eagle displayed sable charged on the breast with a bezant[1]

Sir John Lethbridge, 1st Baronet (1746-1815), of Whitehall Place, Westminster; Sandhill Park, Somerset; Westaway in the parish of Pilton, Devon, and Winkleigh Court, Winkleigh,[2] Devon, was Member of Parliament for Minehead in Somerset from 1806-7. He served as Sheriff of Somerset in 1788-9. In 2010 he was discovered to have been the natural father of Claire Clairmont,[3] and thus the grandfather of Lord Byron's daughter Allegra.


He was born on 12 March 1746, the only son of John I Lethbridge (d.1761)[4][5] of Westaway House in the parish of Pilton, North Devon, by his wife Grace Cardor (alias Carder), daughter of Amos Cardor of Westdown House in Devon. John I Lethbridge was the only surviving son of Thomas I Lethbridge (1698-1734),[6][7] Gentleman, a lawyer of Clement's Inn, by his wife Sarah Periam, daughter of John I Periam (d.1711)[8] of Milverton, Somerset, and sister of John II Periam (c.1701-1788) of Milverton, MP for Minehead (1742-7).[9] John II Periam in 1720 built a mansion at Sandhill Park in the parish of Bishops Lydeard, Somerset, which descended to the Lethbridge family. Periam was descended from Sir William Peryam (1534-1604) of Little Fulford, near Crediton in Devon, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer under Queen Elizabeth I.[10] Thomas I had another son Thomas II Lethbridge (1724-1744), Gentleman, who died aged 20 and was buried in the Bowchier vault in Pilton Church.[11] Thomas I Lethbridge was a younger son of Christopher Lethbridge, Esquire, of Westaway, by his wife Margaret Bowchier (whom he married on 3 January 1681/2[12]), daughter and heiress of Phillip Bowchier (1623-1687) of Westaway. Christopher's uncle was Christopher Lethbridge (died 1670) of Exeter in Devon, Mayor of Exeter in 1660, and one of the Worthies of Devon of the biographer John Prince, (1643–1723). Mayor Christopher Lethbridge appears to have been the ultimate source of the great wealth of the Lethbridge family of Sandhill Park.[13]

Earliest origins

The Lethbridge family is supposedly descended from Ragnar Lodbrok (alias Lethbroke, etc.),[14] a Norse king and saga-character of dubious historicity, possibly an amalgam of several historical ninth-century figures.

Legend 1

The origin of the Lethbridge family of Devon is ascribed by legend (due to the "fancies of mellancholly monks", according to the historian Sir Winston Churchill (1620–1688), father of the 1st Duke of Marlborough[15]) to have been in the person of "Lethbroke, a noble Dane", who having lost his hawk whilst out hunting by the sea-shore, got into a small boat to follow it and was blown onto the coast of Norfolk at Rodham. He was received by King Edmund, whose entertainment of him aroused jealousy in Beric, the royal falconer. Beric murdered Lethbroke, but the buried body was found by his spaniel dog, and he was convicted of the crime. His punishment was to be put in Lethbroke's own boat and set adrift. By chance he drifted not only back to Denmark, but to the very spot where Lethbroke had embarked. He was captured by the local Danes, who recognised Lethbroke's boat, and whom he informed falsely that Lethbroke had been killed by King Edmund. On hearing the story the King of Denmark dispatched an invasionary force to England, commanded by Lethbroke's two sons Hunga and Hubba. The sisters of the latter made a banner to be carried by their brothers, embroidered with a black raven, or eagle. Thus an eagle displayed sable features in the Lethbridge armorials.

Legend II

Sir Winston Churchill of Devon stated the true origins as follows: Reigner, King of Norway was driven out of his kingdom by Harold, King of Denmark, and turned to piracy. During one of his many raids on the north-east coast of England, he was shipwrecked off Norfolk, and captured by the local population, who killed him and whilst dragging his body around in derision, "called him in scorn Lothbroc, meaning "leather-breech", from the material of his trousers. He was soon avenged by three of his sons, Ivor, Hungar and Hubbo, who as younger sons in accordance with Norse custom had been banished from their own country to make a living abroad, and who invaded England near Appledore in North Devon. "Like young rooks drove from their nests, they took that bird for their cognizance, which being embroidered by their vestal sisters [n a banner, consecrated after the horrid rites of their paganish superstition (which rendered it, as the vulgar believed impossible to be taken) they sate it up as the royal standard, calling it by the name of the "Reafan", i.e. the raven". The Raven standard inspired the invaders with "more than humane courage", but was insufficient to defeat the English at the battle which is supposed to have taken place at Hubbleston or "Hubba's Rock", between the villages of Northam and Bideford in North Devon.

Claimed descent from Bourchier

Arms of Bowchier of Westaway: Ermine, a cross chequy gules and or between four water bougets gules,[16]
Arms of Bourchier, Earls of Bath: Argent, a cross engrailed gules between four water bougets sable
Ledger stone in St Mary's Church, Pilton, to Phillip Bowchier (1623-1687) of Westaway
Mural monument to Christopher Lethbridge (d.1713) of Westaway, south aisle wall of Pilton Church, Devon, displaying arms of Lethbridge, Bowchier of Westaway and Incledon of Pilton House

The ancestry of the "Bowchiers" of Westaway is unknown. No surviving record relates them to the noble family of "Bourchier", Earls of Bath, Barons Daubeney and Barons FitzWarin, of Tawstock Court, about 3 miles south of Westaway. The spelling of Bourchier varied greatly in ancient times, even appearing as "Bowcer" on the small monumental brass in St Brannock's Church, Braunton, Devon, of Lady Elizabeth Bourchier (d.1548), daughter of John Bourchier, 1st Earl of Bath & wife of Edward Chichester (d.1522) of Raleigh, Pilton.[17] The armorials of the two families, although different, both display the canting device of the water bouget, both arranged around a cross: Bowchier of Westaway being: Ermine, a cross chequy gules and or between four water bougets gules,[18] and the arms of Bourchier, Earls of Bath, being: Argent, a cross engrailed gules between four water bougets sable.

However, John Lethbridge, 1st Baronet, certainly was of the opinion that his great-grandmother Margaret Bowchier was not only a member of the Bourchier family, but also that through her he had a claim to the abeyant Barony of FitzWarin, which as was well-known, in 1636 on the death of Edward Bourchier, 4th Earl of Bath (1590-1636) had become abeyant between his daughters[19] Elizabeth Bourchier (d.1670), wife of Basil Feilding, 2nd Earl of Denbigh (without progeny); Dorothy Bourchier (1627–1659), 2nd daughter, who married firstly Thomas, Lord Grey of Groby and was the mother of Thomas Grey, 2nd Earl of Stamford; secondly to Gustavus Mackworth, by whom she had issue; Lady Anne Bourchier (born 1631), 3rd daughter, who married firstly James Cranfield, 2nd Earl of Middlesex (1621-1651), the two daughters of which marriage died young;[20] secondly to Sir Chichester Wray, 3rd Baronet (1628-1668), of Trebeigh in the parish of St Ive, Cornwall and of North Russell in the parish of Sourton, Devon, whose descendants, on the death of the 5th Earl of Bath in 1654, inherited the principal Bourchier seat of Tawstock.

In 1786 John I Lethbridge, the future 1st Baronet, made a generous gift of several thousand pounds to the Prince Regent "to relieve the Prince of Wales, out of concern for the dignity of the Royal family and the country and with no ulterior motive." However, it seems this gift was later used as a reason for the king to compensate the 1st Baronet by the grant of the title "Baron FitzWarin", alias "Fitzwarren". In 1809 he made an application to the king for the barony, and in 1811 his son wrote to the Prime Minister that this had been desired by his father "for many years", "as a mark of royal favour". A third application was made in 1812, but all without result. It would have been well known that a far senior claimant to the abeyant barony was the Wrey family, not only directly descended from the 4th Earl of Bath but also seated at Tawstock Court, the ancient Bourchier seat.

The Bowchiers of Westaway were clearly not in the line of succession to the titles Earl of Bath, extinct in 1654 on the death without male progeny or male heir, of Henry Bourchier, 5th Earl of Bath (1587-1654), in which year Phillip Bowchier (1623-1687) of Westaway was still alive, as is recorded on his ledger stone in Pilton Church.[21]

A Ledger stone survives in St Mary's Church, Pilton, to Phillip Bowchier (1623-1687) of Westaway, inscribed as follows:

"Here lyeth ye body of Phillip Bowchier, Gent., buried ye 3d day of Agust 1687 aged 64 years. Here also layeth the body of Agnes late wife of Phillip Bowchier, Gent., who departed this life ye 25th day of Nobr 1698 aged 66. Here lyes also buryed the body of Thomas Lethbridge, Gent., son of Thomas Lethbridge of Clement's Inne, Gent., a younger son of Christopher Lethbridge of Westaway, Esq., by Margaret his wife daughter of the above named Philip Bowchier. Obt 10th Augst 1744 aetatis 20"


He was educated at Winchester College and matriculated at Magdalen College, Oxford in 1764.[22] He served as Sheriff of Somerset in 1788-9 and as a captain in the Somerset Fencibles in 1794,[23] raised to meet the threat of French invasion. He was created a baronet in 1804,[24] "of Westaway House in Devon and Winkley Court in the County of Somerset". He served as Member of Parliament for Minehead in Somerset from 1806-7, apparently due to the influence over that seat exerted by his friend John I Fownes Luttrell (1752–1816), feudal barony of Dunster of nearby Dunster Castle, who "having incurred liability for a treating offence and to avoid risking a petition, returned Lethbridge as locum tenens until the danger of a petition was past".[25]


He was described by Lady Spencer (who called him "Sir Richard Lethmore") as "a most abominable profligate—a rustic roué, very rich and using his riches for the worst purposes".[26]


"Sandhill Park, Somersetshire", 1829 engraving
"He has a near neighbour[31] who is at daggers drawn with him and has completely got the better of (him) in the art of tormenting, by imitating instantly every improvement Sir Richard is making at his seat, in his own, which kills with spleen the unhappy man of taste, for these imitations are very ill-executed. Sir Richard bethought himself however, lately, of a scheme which he conceived entirely out of the reach of his persecutor, namely a large and magnificent piece of water which he knew from the nature of the place his neighbour possessed, could not be equalled by him. However, here again he was mistaken, for the tormentor immediately made a frightful piece of water and placed in the very centre of it a large horrid statue holding a label out of its hand on which is written 'The way to Harlots Hall'. Did you ever hear such thorough-paced country gentlemen’s raillerie?".

Marriage & progeny

In June 1776 he married Dorothea Buckler, a daughter and co-heiress of William Buckler of Boreham in Wiltshire, by whom he had progeny 1 son and 2 daughters as follows.[38]


He died on 15 December 1815. On his deathbed he tore up a will by which he had disinherited his son.[41] His monument in Bishops Lydeard Church is inscribed as follows:[42]

"Underneath are deposited the relics of Sir John Lethbridge, Bart., who departed this life 15 Dec, 1815, in his 70th year. He had resided at Sandhill Park in this Parish for the last 48 years, but was formerly of Westaway House, in the county of Devon, where, and at Winkley Court, in the same county, his ancestors had been for many generations situated. This stone is also sacred to the memory of Dame Dorothy Lethbridge, relict of Sir John Lethbridge, Bart, and elder daughter and co-heiress of the late William Buckler, of Boreham, in the county of Wilts. She lived a pattern of Christian piety and virtue, and died full of good works Dec. 1st 1831, aged 82 years".

Further reading



  1. Debrett's Peerage, 1968, p.497
  2. Lysons, Daniel & Lysons, Samuel, Magna Britannia, Vol.6, Devonshire, London, 1822
  3. date per Thorne
  4. Baynham, 1908, confused John I Lethbridge (d.1761) with John Lethbridge (d.1759) of Wolborough, Newton Abbot, Devon, the inventor of the Diving Bell
  5. National Archives: Will of "Thomas Lethbridge, Gentleman of Clements Inn, Middlesex" proved 29 July 1734
  6. Thomas I Lethbridge (1698-1734), baptised at Pilton 7 April 1698, per parish records
  7. National Archives: PROB 11/523/242, Will of John Periam, Gentleman of Milverton, Somerset,proved 5 October 1711
  9. Burke's
  10. Per inscribed ledger stone
  11. per parish records
  12. Baynham, p.132
  13. Prince, John, (1643–1723) The Worthies of Devon, 1810 edition, London, pp.564-5; Baynham, p.125
  14. Prince, p.564
  15. As shown on the mural monument to Christopher Lethbridge (d.1713) of Westaway in the parish church of Pilton, Devon
  16. See image File:ElizabethBourchier1548BrauntonDevon.JPG Gothic text inscription under: "Here lyethe Lady Elyzabethe Bowcer daughter of John Erle of Bathe & sumtyme wyffe to Edwarde Chechester Esquyer the whyche Elyzabethe decessyd the XXXIIIth day of August in the yere of O_r Lorde God M Vc (i.e. 5*c) XLVIII apon whose soule God have m(er)cy".
  17. As shown on the mural monument to Christopher Lethbridge (d.1713) of Westaway in the parish church of Pilton, Devon
  18. GEC Complete Peerage, Vol.V, p.511
  19. Vivian, Lt.Col. J.L., (Ed.) The Visitations of the County of Devon: Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564 & 1620, Exeter, 1895, p.107
  20. For information on the Bowchiers of Westaway, see: Reed, Margaret A., Pilton, its Past and its People, Barnstaple, 1985, p.243
  21. Thorne
  22. Thorne
  23. Thorne
  24. Thorne
  25. Thorne
  26. Baynham, Rev. Arthur Wilfrid, Memorials of Ash Priors, Exeter, 1908
  27. "Sandhill Park Hospital". Images of England. English Heritage. Retrieved 2008-08-08.
  28. A monument survives in Bishops Lydeard Church inscribed: "To the memory of John Periam, Esqre., who died Jan. 16, 1755, aged 54 years, and was buried the 31st of the same month".(Baynham, p.130). John I Periam married Elizabeth Southey, daughter of John Southey, of Fitzhead, Esq.(Baynham, p.131)
  29. Baynham,. pp.132-3
  30. Apparently a member of the Winter family (Thorne) of Court House, Ash Priors (Baynham, p.22)
  31. Thorne
  33. Reed, p.141
  34. Lysons, Daniel & Lysons, Samuel, Magna Britannia, Vol.6, Devonshire, London, 1822
  35. Pole, Sir William (d.1635), Collections Towards a Description of the County of Devon, Sir John-William de la Pole (ed.), London, 1791, pp.25-7
  36. Lysons
  37. Burke, p.464
  38. Thorne
  39. History of Parliament biography
  40. Thorne
  41. Baynham, p.133
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