Villiers family

This article is about the English noble family. For other people with the surname, see Villiers (disambiguation).
Arms of the Villiers family

The Villiers family, pronounced "Villers" (/ˈvɪləz/), is one of England's eminent aristocratic families. Over time, various members of the Villiers family were made knights, baronets and peers. Hereditary titles held by the Villiers family include the dukedoms of Buckingham (1623-1687) and Cleveland (1670-1709), as well as the earldoms of Anglesey (1623-1661), Jersey (since 1697) and Clarendon (since 1776). Perhaps the most prominent members of the family were those who received the two dukedoms: George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592–1628) rose to fame and influence as favourite of King James I of England, while Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland (1640–1709) became a mistress of King Charles II of England, by whom she had five children.


Graves of the 7th (left) and 8th (right) Earls of Jersey in All Saints' parish churchyard, Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire


The Villiers family had been settled at Brooksby, Leicestershire, since at least 1235.[1] The village, recorded in the Domesday Book as Brochesbi, was held by Hugh d'Avranches after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.[2] In the early 13th century the tenant of Brooksby, Gilbert de Seis, married a member of the Villiers family, a line of minor gentry of Norman descent.[3] The estate remained in Villiers hands for the next 500 years. At this time, Brooksby consisted of the hall, the nearby Church of St Michael and All Angels, a small number of peasants' houses and a field system with common land.[2]

In the 16th century, the family was represented by George Villiers († 1606), a minor gentleman who is said to have been a "prosperous sheep farmer".[4] He was High Sheriff of Leicestershire in 1591, and a Knight of the Shire for the county from 1604 until his death. He was knighted in 1593.[1]

Sir George Villiers was married twice, and left nine surviving children. Among the children from his first marriage were the eldest son, William († 1629), who became the ancestor of the Villiers baronets; Edward († 1626) who became Master of the Mint and President of Munster; while two daughters married into the Boteler and Washington families, respectively. Among the children from Sir George Villiers' second marriage to Mary (née Beaumont, † 1632) were George († 1628), the favourite of King James I of England who was eventually created Duke of Buckingham, and his sister Susan († 1652), who married the 1st Earl of Denbigh. According to Thomson,[5] Sir George Villiers is the ancestor of sixteen British prime ministers from the 3rd Duke of Grafton to David Cameron.

Rise to wealth and influence

In August 1614, then twenty-one-year-old George Villiers became a favourite of King James I of England and remained in this position until the king's death in 1625. Under James I's patronage Villers advanced rapidly through the ranks of the nobility. In 1615 he was knighted as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber and in 1616 elevated to the peerage as Baron Whaddon and Viscount Villiers. He was made Earl of Buckingham in 1617, then Marquess of Buckingham in 1618, and eventually Earl of Coventry and Duke of Buckingham in 1623.[6] Buckingham was the king's constant companion and closest advisor. Even after James I's death, Buckingham remained at the height of royal favour under Charles I, until he was assassinated in 1628. Buckingham was buried in Westminster Abbey, while his titles passed to his son George (1628–1687), upon whose death they became extinct.

Continuing influence

As a royal favourite during the reigns of James I and Charles I, Buckingham used his enormous political influence to prodigiously enrich his relatives and advance their social positions, which soured public opinion towards him.[7] Under his influence, several members of his immediate family were made knights, baronets and peers. His half-brother Edward († 1626) was knighted in 1616, while his mother was created Countess of Buckingham in her own right in 1618 and his eldest half-brother William († 1629) was created a baronet in 1619. Two of Buckingham's other brothers were similarly honoured when John († 1658) was created Baron Villiers of Stoke and Viscount Purbeck in 1619, and Christopher († 1630) was created Baron Villiers of Daventry and Earl of Anglesey in 1623.

Sir Edward Villiers († 1626) married Barbara St John, daughter of Sir John St John († 1594) of Lydiard Tregoze, Wiltshire, by whom he had ten children.[1] Villiers' wife was the niece of Oliver St John, who was created Viscount Grandison in 1623. Grandison had no issue, so the Duke of Buckingham arranged for his half-brother's sons to inherit that title.[1] Sir Edward Villiers' eldest son William († 1643) thus succeeded as 2nd Viscount Grandison in 1630. He was the father of Barbara Villiers († 1709), one of the mistresses of King Charles II of England, by whom she had five children and was created Duchess of Cleveland in 1670.

Sir Edward Villiers' second and third sons, John († c.1661) and George († 1699), succeeded as 3rd and 4th Viscounts Grandison, while the fourth son, Sir Edward Villiers († 1689), was father of Edward Villiers († 1711), who was created both Baron Villiers and Viscount Villiers in 1691 as well as Earl of Jersey in 1697. The 1st Earl of Jersey's sister, Elizabeth Villiers († 1733), was the presumed mistress of King William III of England from 1680 until 1695. Thomas Villiers († 1786), the second son of the 2nd Earl of Jersey, was created Baron Hyde and Earl of Clarendon in 1776.

On the death of the 4th Viscount Grandison in 1699, the title passed to his grandson, the 5th Viscount. He was the son of Brigadier-General the Hon. Edward Villiers († 1693), eldest son of the 4th Viscount. In 1721 the 5th Viscount Grandison was created Earl Grandison. Upon his death in 1766, the earldom became extinct while the viscountcy passed to his second cousin William Villiers, 3rd Earl of Jersey, who became the 6th Viscount Grandison. In 1746 Elizabeth Mason, daughter of the 1st Earl Grandison, was created Viscountess Grandison, and in 1767 she was made Viscountess Villiers and Countess Grandison. All three titles became extinct on the death of the 2nd Earl Grandison in 1800.

Theresa Villiers (born 1968), the British Conservative Party politician and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland,[8][9] is a descendant of Edward Ernest Villiers (1806–1843), a son of George Villiers († 1827) and brother of George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon.[10]

Members of the family

Earls of Buckingham (1618)

Main article: Earl of Buckingham

Villiers baronets (1619)

Main article: Villiers baronets

Viscounts Purbeck (1619)

Viscounts Grandison (1623)

Main article: Viscount Grandison

Earls of Anglesey (1623)

Main article: Earl of Anglesey

Dukes of Buckingham (1623)

Main article: Duke of Buckingham

Dukes of Cleveland (1670)

Main article: Duke of Cleveland

Earls of Jersey (1697)

Arms of the Villiers Earl of Jersey
Main article: Earl of Jersey

Earls Grandison (1746)

Main article: Viscount Grandison

Earls of Clarendon (1776)

Main article: Earl of Clarendon

Notable marriages

Other notable members

Members of the Order of the Garter

Several members of the Villiers family have also been knights of the Order of the Garter. The following is a list is of all Villiers members of this order, across all branches of the family, along with their year of investiture.


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  1. 1 2 3 4 Thrush 2004.
  2. 1 2 Lewin, Elizabeth (n.d.). Brooksby Hall: A Brief History. Brooksby Hall.
  3. Collins, Arthur (1812). Collins's Peerage of England. F. C. and J. Rivington, Otridge and son. p. 762.
  4. Handley 2004.
  5. Thomson, Gerald Malcolm. The Prime Ministers - From Robert Walpole to Margaret Thatcher. New York: William Morrow (1981), p. xxii; ISBN 978-0-688-00432-3; accessed 8 April 2014.
  6. Wroughton p. 221
  7. Stewart p. 314
  8. "As it happened: Reshuffle". BBC News. 4 September 2012.
  9. "Theresa Villiers MP". BBC Democracy Live. Retrieved 17 August 2012.
  10. "Theresa Anne Villiers". The Peerage. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
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