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The Caryls of West Sussex

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     Among the ancient county families of Sussex,  there is-or rather, was-one whose name is familiar to the readers of Alexander Pope as
numbering among its members a friend and correspondent of the bard of Twickenham. I refer to the Caryls of West Grinstead. Though they have been extinct, at all events in Sussex, for nearly a century, yet their memory is fresh in the district where their broad acres extended, and they are still held in honor for their heroic devotion to I the old faith.' They possessed, under the last Stuarts and the first of our Hanoverian sovereigns, vast estates, which stretched right across the county from near Shoreham and Steyning to the borders of Surrey. They held several manors and manor houses; and, in fact, after the princely owners of Arundel Castle and Petworth House, and possibly Halnaker, they were the greatest magnates in Sussex, so far as territorial property is concerned. West Grinstead Park was one of their seats-in fact, their chief seat. Here, even so lately as the days of George IL, they still kept up a grand establishment, with horses and hounds, and foresters and retainers. Their old castle, however, has long since been destroyed, and has been succeeded by a modern semi-Gothic residence, built about a century since, after the fashion and in the style of Horace Walpole's I gingerbread structure' at Strawberry Hill.
     Many of the old pollard oaks which once owned the lordship of the Caryls are still standing in the deer park, which formerly was part of an ancient chase. At this mansion Addison was an occasional visitor; and they still show in the park the tree under which Pope wrote a part, at least, of his celebrated mock-heroic poem of I The Rape of the Lock.'
   But some years before the accession of George III. the fortunes of the Caryls had waned gradually, and, to speak the truth, out of their Vast estates, only a small portion still remained to them.
     The history of their decay, however, is not a matter of shame and reproach. They did not lose their wealth by gambling, or by indulging in the other grosser forms of luxury in which English courtiers and country gentlemen wasted their substance in imitation and emulation of Charles II. Their money was lost in another way-by their staunch and conscientious adherence to the creed of their forefathers.
   The Caryls were staunch royalists and loyalists, and staunch Roman Catholics, and they had the misfortune of living under the blighting influence of the penal laws to which their coreligionists were subjected. In the days of which I speak it was a matter of heavy fine, imprisonment, and even banishment, to harbor a priest, and it was death for a priest to be found exercising his functions in England; and in the southern and eastern counties especially, on account of their nearness to the metropolis and the court, these laws were sometimes enforced with a severity which it was impossible to bring into operation north of the Trent and Humber. In the case of wealthy and noble landowners, the very fact of being , 'Popish recusants' had to be compromised or atoned for by heavy and repeated fines, twenty pounds a month being frequently imposed on the head of a household for every member of his family who did not put in an appearance at public worship in his parish church on Sundays.
     Now it so happened that the Caryls were notorious harborers of priests and frequenters of Roman Catholic chapels, which they maintained in each of their manor-houses for the use of their tenantry, who followed their lead almost to a man in matters of religion. Not having the influence at Court which was enjoyed by the Howards, the Talbots, and the Cliffords, they were forced to compound with the government at a very heavy annual sum for themselves, their families, and their tenantry. Fines and imprisonments, and constant prosecutions for 'harboring of seminary priests' and for 'Popish recusancy,' and later on sundry confiscations of broad lands on account of Jacobite conspiracies-in which, it must be owned, various members of the family engaged-these gradually wasted and destroyed the estates of the Caryls, until, about a hundred years ago, the last of the old race was left to live with its three maiden sisters in the old half-ruined castle of West Grinstead, having parted by necessity with all his estate, except only two or three farms in the immediate neighborhood.
     The memory of these three 'ladies bountiful'; still sweet and fresh round West Grinstead, and not many years ago the old people would relate to visitors how the Miss Caryls used to go about among their brother's people, praying by their sick-beds, comforting and tending the destitute and sorrowful, and instructing the ignorant, both young and old, and, in fact, performing all the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy which the religion of Christ inculcates. In a word, they seem to have left behind them the odor of almost every Christian virtue, and thus the 'old religion' is still personified in the tenacious minds and memories of the local peasantry, and associated with piety and goodness.
There is perhaps no district in England where so many of the old Roman
Catholic practices are so generally kept up, and only a few year ago there was scarcely a cottage near in which the following night prayer was not recited by the children as a charm:

'Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Bless the bed that I lie on Four corners to my bed; Four angels at my head Two to watch and one to pray, And one to carry my soul away.'

     But to return to the Caryls. After a time the three ladies left their country and crossed the sea into Belgium, having no longer the means of beeping up their place in the home of their ancestors; and shortly afterwards the news was received that they had joined the English Benedictine Convent at Bruges. John Caryl, their brother, however, still remained for a time amid the wreck of his paternal inheritance. Debts had. accumulated on him-debts incurred partly by fines on the score of religion, and partly for interest on the mortgages held by the family solicitor, a Mr. Burrell, in the neighbouring market town of Horsham. As the country people tell the story, it was not merely the last blow that was given to their patrons by the new-made family; but they hint at a long course of action having been pursued, by which the clever and unscrupulous lawyer gra-
dually involved the honest and unsuspicious Caryls in legal meshes from which there -was, no escape. At last he foreclosed, and the old Caryl estates passed into the possession of the titled family who now hold them, the first member of which was the country attorney who gave the last blow to his employers.
     The Caryls really deserved a better fate. The Burrells, who now own West Grinstead Park, are baronets; and the peasantry, who have a vague notion that they ruined the Caryls on set purpose and by no honest. means, say, as they point to the arms of the titled house with the badge of a baronet on the shield, I There is the red hand of the Burrells, showing that they drew the life-blood out of the old Caryls. Arms, as we all know, are not given by the Heralds' College for nothing, or without a meaning: Verily sometimes there is reason in the unreasoning assertions of the ignorant multitude.
     Be this, however, as it may, one thing is certain, namely, that in the early days of George III. John Caryl found himself suddenly a ruined man. It is true that he had a bailiff's house and a small home farm that had never been mortgaged, because it was made the abode of the resident priest, who for disguise was dressed as a farmer, and often looked after the farm, but who was known to the initiated few-those of the tenantry that were in the secret-in his proper character. The little chapel too was in the same house-in a secret loft in the roof, and approached only by a ladder. When John Caryl saw that the end had come, he sold his last acres-not, however, without legally settling the house and garden on the priest in perpetuity by the aid of trustees-and himself turned his back on the forests and downs of Sussex, a ruined, solitary man. He was never heard of more in his native land, much less in the county and neighborhood which had known him in the days of independence and prosperity. It is said that he went into Belgium, and settled there in order to be near his sisters, and that he died in a poor lodging in the fair city of Bruges, without leaving behind him enough money to pay the cost of his funeral. In some unknown Belgian churchyard lies the body of John Caryl, the last male member of a family who endured a slow, lingering martyrdom for centuries Oil account of their loyalty to the faith of their forefathers, and to the Stuart line of sovereigns.
     As for the Burrells, baronets and squires of West Grinstead, some idea of their wealth may be formed when I add that the Modern Doomsday Book,' published by the authority of Parliament, credits them with upwards of ten thousand acres in the county of Sussex; and that another member of the house, having come into another property by a caprice of fortune which is recorded by Sir Nathaniel William Wraxall in his I Memoirs of My Own Time,' married one of the proudest of I peeresses in their own right,' and was himself created a peer. He took, however, for his title not the Barony of Caryl, or of Grinstead, but that of Gwydyr.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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