The families of Greys Court

View of the house with the Ha-ha in the foreground

Since the Doomsday Book, four main families have owned Greys Court. Read on to find out more about them.

 

The de Greys: Soldiers and Churchmen 1086 - 1485

The de Grey family included some important figures. Anschetil de Grai is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as holding the estate of Redrefeld (now Rotherfield Greys). Walter de Grey is named in Magna Carta (1215) and was the archbishop of York for 40 years and Regent of England twice. Lord John de Grey, the first Baron Grey of Rotherfield, was a soldier who became a founding knight of the Garter after the battle of Crecy in 1346.

The last male de Grey died in 1387. His granddaughter Alice supported the Lancastrians during the Wars of the Roses. Her grandson, Francis Lovell, became a Viscount and a great friend of Richard III but lost everything after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

Sir John de Grey, the first baron, founding knight of the Garter in his garter robes.
Sir John de Grey
Sir John de Grey, the first baron, founding knight of the Garter in his garter robes.

The Knollyses: Courtiers and Politicians 1514 – 1688

In 1514, the estate was granted to Sir Robert Knollys, one of Henry VIII’s courtiers, and his wife.

Robert's son, Sir Francis Knollys, married Elizabeth I's cousin Catherine Carey. Both were important members of Elizabeth's court, and she visited Greys Court. Francis was Mary, Queen of Scots' first gaoler in England. Their daughter Lettice infuriated the Queen by secretly marrying the Queen’s favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.

Sir Francis Knollys, who built the Elizabethan house, and Catherine Carey
Sir Francis Knollys, who built the Elizabethan house, and Catherine Carey
Sir Francis Knollys, who built the Elizabethan house, and Catherine Carey

Greys Court remained in the Knollys family for many years, and in 1645, during the Civil War, the site was occupied by a parliamentarian force.

The Stapletons: Plantation Owners and Local Gentry 1724 – 1934

Sir William Stapleton, the first of the family to own Greys Court.
Sir William Stapleton, the first of the family to own Greys Court.
Sir William Stapleton, the first of the family to own Greys Court.

William Knollys’ daughter Lettice sold Greys Court to the Paul family. In 1724 Catherine Paul married Sir William Stapleton, who inherited the family's sugar plantations. Their son Thomas joined the notorious Hell Fire club, led by his cousin Sir Francis Dashwood, and later settled down.

He married Mary Fane, niece of the Earl of Westmorland, and his alterations to Greys Court made it a fashionable Georgian house with romantic ruins. Their son later inherited the Despenser barony and moved to Mereworth, but had to sell Greys Court to his mother after he had some financial difficulties.

The Stapletons sold Greys Court to Evelyn Fleming in 1934, but after making some alterations, she moved back to London.

The Brunners: Homemakers and Campaigners 1937 – 1969 (2003) 

A portrait of Sir Felix and Lady Brunner by William Mundy
A portrait of Sir Felix and Lady Brunner by William Mundy
A portrait of Sir Felix and Lady Brunner by William Mundy

Sir Felix and Lady Brunner bought Greys in 1937, falling in love with the property’s wonderful views. Sir Felix was a Lieutenant in the First World War and Lady Brunner was chair of the Women’s Institute and closely involved in the Keep Britain Tidy Campaign, for which she received an OBE in 2000.

The family opened Greys Court to the public from the 1950s, and gave the house, gardens and estate to the National Trust in 1969. Lady Brunner was still living at Greys Court when she passed away in 2003.