Stories of romance in the East of England

Oxburgh Hall reflected in the moat at sunset.

Who doesn’t enjoy a good love story? There’s so many romantic tales connected with the people who lived and worked at our places in the East of England, we thought we'd share a few with you.

Love, lust and liaisons

They married for love

When Henry Bedingfeld inherited Oxburgh Hall, he was a bachelor. Although he was in need of money, he married for love; proposing in Paris to Sybil Lyne-Stephens, who was 23 years his junior. They were married soon after and returned to Norfolk from their honeymoon. They were collected by motor car from a local train station and driven home to Oxburgh, the first time a car would ever drive into the courtyard at this magnificent moated Hall. 

The influence of a mistress

It was the witty and older sister of John Hobart, who owned Blickling Hall in the 1700s, that became the mistress of King George II. Whilst George was still a prince, he made a financial settlement with her husband in exchange of her services as a royal mistress! Henrietta’s romantic influence is thought to have been instrumental in obtaining her brother his earldom in 1746.

A portrait of Henrietta Howard in the South Drawing Room
A portrait of Henrietta Howard in the South Drawing Room
A portrait of Henrietta Howard in the South Drawing Room

An act of marriage

Wimpole, Cambridgeshire’s grandest estate was once home to a man who had a very important part to play in our romantic history. Phillip, the first Earl of Hardwicke played an instrumental role in the passing of the Marriage Act of 1754 - establishing the legal basis for the conduct and definition of marriages in England and Wales. 

A scandalous affair

The Hervey family of Ickworth, eccentric and scandalous perhaps, but never dull. The romantic history of Sir Thomas and Isabella Hervey became family legend, when Isabella’s father strongly opposed her marriage and kept the lovers apart for over 10 years. Then there was the 3rd Earl of Bristol, who secretly married the notorious Elizabeth Chudleigh, whose bigamous marriage to the Duke of Kingston caused one of the most famous scandals of the 18th century.

Love tragically cut short

Given the age of many of the servants at Ickworth, it’s not surprising that a number of them found romance. In the mid 1930s head kitchenmaid, Millie and second footman Cecil Webb fell in love and married. However, their romance was tragically cut short by his death during the Second World War. 

A lifetime of waiting

Sutton Hoo was once home to Edith Dempster, affectionately known as ‘Dempy’. She met the love of her life Frank Pretty when she was just 17. He then proceeded to ask her hand in marriage every year on her birthday, until she finally said yes at the age of 42. The dutiful daughter, her father didn’t approve of Frank who had made his money from selling ladies underwear and it wasn’t until her father’s death that she agreed to the proposal. 

A royal suitor

Not many people know that Melford Hall once served as the setting for a critical meeting between Queen Elizabeth I and the French Ambassador. He was acting as an envoy for the duc d’Alencon, one of the Queen’s most ardent suitors. Although she had no intention of marrying him, she was anxious to impress and she sent her servants back to London for more gold and silver to add to the decorations.

Stained glass window depicting Queen Elizabeth I
stained glass window at Melford Hall Sufolk
Stained glass window depicting Queen Elizabeth I

Etched with love

At Felbrigg Hall there is a love poem that dates back to around 1735, etched into a pane of glass in the window of the butler’s pantry. It was etched by Benjamin Stillingfleet, William Windham II’s tutor, in praise of a local beauty, Anne Barnes, with whom he was in love.

Wartime sweethearts

We also know that during the Second World War, the Bedingfeld family offered the family chapel at Oxburgh Hall, so that airmen from the nearby RAF base could marry their sweethearts before going back to war. 

Did you know...

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