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The Mighty Grenvilles

The Mighty Grenvilles 

As you approach Kilkhampton along the A39, the welcome sign states that you are entering ‘The Grenville country’.  But who were the Grenvilles and why were so revered? Today, little is left of the grand house of Stowe, a Grenville residence since medieval times. But much of the wider estate has remained largely undisturbed and one could easily imagine the genteel activities of a country gentleman taking place. The mansion was restyled and rebuilt in 1680 by John Grenville, who became the Earl of Bath. However, such was the wealth of the Grenville family, that the impressive building was torn down a mere 40 years later by John’s daughter. Although, such a grand house could not be erased so easily. The materials and contents of the house were sold off and can be traced to many other grand houses, even today. 

Before the more famous Sir Francis Drake, Buckland Abbey had been proudly owned by Richard Grenville. Richard is associated with the ship the ‘Revenge’ when he became embroiled in an attempt to intercept a Spanish fleet richly laden with goods from the West Indies. Although vastly outnumbered, Richard and the crew of the Revenge were able to hold off 50 Spanish galleons for 15 hours, killing 1000 of their men. Richard was to die a hero on the deck of his ship, described later by eccentric nineteen century poet, Rev Hawker. 

Bravery must have run in the family, as it was Richard’s grandson, Bevil who was to become the most famous Grenville of all. When civil war broke out, the Genville’s were firmly on the King’s side. Bevil actually fought two battles in his home county, Braddock Down near Lostwithiel and of course, Stratton, which was a bit closer to home. However, Bevil was finally beaten at the battle of Landsdowne, dying on July 6th 1643. Almost as famous as his master is Bevill’s loyal servant Anthony Payne. It was the faithful Payne, standing over 7 feet tall, who brought Bevil’s body back to Kilkhampton to be buried in the family vault.  When Bevil married, his father, Bernard gifted him the property of Stowe, manor of Kilkhampton, the manor of Bideford and the island of Lundy. Not an ungenerous wedding present, and proof of the Grenville’s position as a family of considerable wealth and status, with their historic links to Kilkhampton clear. 

Bevil was not the only Grenville to make his mark during the civil war. Younger brother Richard, was also noted as a brilliant soldier, although it would seem not as likeable as his sibling. Richards pretended to join the Roundheads, and was so convincing that he was allowed to take control of a band of soldiers on horse bound for Basingstoke. However, before reaching his destination, Richard ordered his men to fall in and follow him to Oxford to fight for the King. The Parliamentarians never forgave his treachery, calling him Skellum, Renego or Red Fox. 

Despite having such a dominating presence, the Grenville name was to die out in the 1730’s. The family estates were passed down to the Thynnes, who today include the Earl of Bath, from the famous Longleat estate. It is likely that there are many more descendants of the mighty Grenvilles. During their reign, they married into many of the great Westcountry families, such as the Arundells, St Aubyns, Prideaux and Tremaynes to name but a few. It is no wonder then, that Kilkhampton proudly claims them as their own.