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The Bulstrodes of Bulstrode

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     On the south side of the high road from Uxbridge to Beaconsfield, not far from Gerards Cross, the traveler sees the fine woods and deer park which surround Bulstrode Park, a seat of the Duke of Somerset. The house itself was built in 1686, and is characteristic of the age of its founder, who was none other than the infamous Judge Jeffreys, afterwards so celebrated for his cruelties. It was sold by this son-in-law to the Earl of Portland, whose son and successor, the first duke, resold it to the ancestor of lira grace of Somerset.
     The house is called Bulstrode, and for a very good reason. For six centuries and more it was the seat of the Bulstrodes, a family of some celebrity in their day, but who seem to have passed away just as the sun of Jeffreys was in the ascendant.
     Their original name, it is said, was Shobbington, and the story goes that they were 'at home' on their manor at Hedgerley, 'when the Conqueror came.' But they did not apparently much relish the Conqueror's coming, and, tearing that they should lose their broad lands, they resolved to fight and die for them.
     The story of their successful resistance to the arms and forces of the Norman king is gleaned from various sources of information, stored amongst ancient documents in the possession of the Bulstrodes, and it will be found told in extenso in the pages of Lipscombe's 'History of Buckinghamshire.' The following outline of the story will be sufficient for my purpose:
     The name of the Bulstrodes in the old Saxon days was Shobbington. When William I, after the battle of Hastings, set himself to reduce this kingdom in detail under his sway, he offered to grant to one of his Norman followers who had come over with him the fine and well wooded estate which now is called Bulstrode, and which even then was situated, we are told, in a fine and extensive park, by Gerard's Cross, and had been in possession of a Saxon family for several generations. But on this occasion William seems to have reckoned without his host. The Shobbington who enjoyed it, having notice of the king's intentions, declared that lie would rather die, and pour out his blood freely and willingly, than tamely allow himself to be ousted from the inheritance of his forefathers. Following up this resolution by prompt and brave action, he armed his servants and tenants to a considerable number; upon which the Norman lord above-mentioned asked and obtained from the king a thousand of his bravest and finest Norman troops to help him to take possession of the estate by force. Nothing daunted, the Shobbington called on all his relatives and friends to assist him ; and especially his neighbors of the two families of Penn and Hampden flew to arms in his cause, and came to his relief with their servants and their able-bodied tenantry. When they had all joined hands in the good cause, they took up a strong position, and threw up earthworks to defend the place; and the remains of these earthworks, after the lapse of eight hundred years, are plainly traceable in the park to the present hour.
     'Now,' writes Lipscombe, 'whether they wanted horses or not is uncertain; but the story goes that, having managed to tame a parcel of bulls, they mounted (or strode) them, and, sallying out of their entrenchments during the night, surprised the Normans in their camp, killed many of them, and put the rest to flight. The king, having intelligence of the affair, and not thinking it safe for him, whilst his power was as yet new and unsettled, to drive a daring and obstinate people to despair, sent a herald to them in order to know what they would have, and promised Shobbington himself a safe conduct if he would come to court. This Shobbington accordingly did, riding thither upon a bull, and accompanied by his seven sons likewise mounted. On his being introduced into the royal presence, the king asked him what were his demands, and why he alone dared to resist the Norman arms when the rest of the kingdom had submitted to his government, and owned him for their sovereign? Shobbington, nothing daunted, made answer that he and his ancestors had long been inhabitants of this island, and that they had enjoyed that estate for many years, and were much attached to it; and he promised the king that if he was permitted still to hold it, he and his family would become his subjects, and be faithful to him in peace and in war, as be had been to his Saxon predecessors on the throne.
     'The king gave his royal word that he would confirm him in his estate, and accordingly forthwith had a grant made out, entitling him to its free enjoyment for the future. Upon this the family adopted the name of Bulstrode in lieu of Shobbington, in remembrance of having "strode" to court upon "bulls;" and the name clung to them during the whole of the reigns of our Norman, Plantagenet, Tudor, and Stuart kings.
     ' The truth of this story is confirmed,' adds Lipscombe, 'not only by long tradition in the family, but by several memorials which remain on their lands; as also by the ruins of the works which they threw up in the park, and by the crest of their arms, which is a veritable bull's head, erased, Gu, attired Or, between two wings S.
      Lipscombe adds the pedigree of the Bulstrodes from the Harleian Manuscripts, carrying it down to Whitlock Bulstrode, of Clifford's Inn, London, who was aged 30 in 1683, and who is described as 'of Hounslow Priory, and a justice of the peace for Middlesex,'  He died Nov. 27, 1724, and was buried at Hounslow. He seems to have left an only daughter, Elizabeth. The ancient Norman church of Upton, near Slough, contains memorials of Edward Bulstrode, 'esquire of the body' to Henry VII. and Henry VIII., and of other members of that ancient family.
     I may add that a noble bronze bull crowns the north tower of his grace of Somerset's fine mansion, thus endorsing the truth of the story, and, as it were, proclaiming it to the outer word.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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