In the middle of the 12th Century, a branch of the famous French De Verdons family, some of whom accompanied William the Conqueror, settled at Wrottesley.
The family’s fortune began with Sir Hugh, William’s son, who was just five years old on the death of his father in 1320. He had a wild career fighting in Scotland and France in the Hundred Years War. Sir Hugh was also responsible for the famous family property feud with his neighbours, the Pertons. He was responsible for the death through violence of John de Perton of Totenhalehom (Tettenhall) but received a Royal Pardon for it because of his value and prowess in battle!
Even the Pope was to protest, bitterly to King Edward, that his efforts to arrange a truce between the English and the French were being wrecked by Hugh de Wrocelesse who was responsible for kidnapping, robbing and attacking French nobles in their beds. King Edward though preferred to believe that it was the French who were breaking the truce.
Larger than life Sir Hugh, through his fighting skills and friendship with the Black Prince, was among the famous founder members of the Order of the Garter. He survived the times of the Black Death and lived to the relatively grand age of 67, being succeeded by his ten year old son.
Head of the house at the time of the War of the Roses, when England’s old nobility did their level best to destroy one another.
He played a strong role on the side of the Yorkists, supporting the King Maker, the Earl of Warwick. And for a time, the Wrottesleys prospered and the family estate doubled. But when the Earl died, all his supporters were in peril and Sir Walter, who was in charge of defending Calais, was forced to surrender and see all his gains taken at the price of his freedom.
Richard patiently rebuilt his family’s lost fortunes when the Tudor monarchs brought more settled times.
He suffered from a strange scalp infection, and once wrote to Henry VIII asking that he be allowed to not doff his cap in the presence of the famous King.
Henry wrote back to Richard as follows: “Foresomuche as wee bee credibly enformed that our trusty and welbiloved Richard Wrottesley, Squier, for certain diseases and infirmities which he hath in his hed cannot conveniently bee uncovered of the same without grete danger, whereupon we… have licensed him to use and were his bonet from hensforth in al place and at al seasons in our presence as elliswhere at his libertie… Without challenge or interruption to the contrary.”
When Richard did die, aged 72, he was buried in the vaults beneath the East end of Tettenhall Church.
The Great Civil War between Parliament and King Charles I found Sir Walter with Parliamentary sympathies but unable to take up arms against the King.
Poor Sir Walter did not know what to do but, fearful of his family estate, he tried to remain neutral when such a stance was really impossible
Yet he still sent the family’s silver – worth nearly £250 – to the King and was rewarded by being made a Baronet. From this day on, the ‘Red Hand of Ulster’ , a device of a Baronet, was shown on the family coat of arms.
Yet the family did not take up arms themselves, annoying both sides who badly wanted Wrottesley as a strong point, controlling the road to Shrewsbury.
When Sir Walter refused to host a Royalist garrison, Thomas Leveson, now a royalist commander at Dudley Castle, sent a raiding party, burning down outbuildings and capturing livestock.
Then, for a time Sir Walter kept a small Royalist garrison at Wrottesley.
After the war, with Cromwell’s New Model Army victorious, Sir Walter was found guilty of supporting the King despite his claims of neutrality and fined an enormous sum at the time of £1,500, reduced slightly on appeal.
Like his father, he worked hard to repair the savages of war, and hugely improved his family’s affairs through marriage to a wealthy heiress, Eleanora Archer, and so once again the family prospered in quieter times.
Another good marriage with the Gowers, a family well known for its wealth and influence, saw the family’s fortunes improve further.
When Bonny Prince Charlie entered South Staffordshire during the course of his rebellion, Sir Richard, a regular duellist, armed his tenants and gathered his servants to do battle.
But he reportedly never got further than a local inn, The Bull, where his small band of men spent a convivial week.
Perhaps this convinced him to give up duelling and enter the Church, becoming minister at St. Michael’s and eventually royal chaplain to George III. When he died, at just 45, he was Dean of Worcester, and by then all his daughters had been Maids of Honour to the Queen.
Sir John Wrottesley was prominent in Parliament – as a leading member of the Whig party – at a time of great inflation and peasant riots.
A great landowner he had been elevated to the peerage at a time when the Wrottesley family, with reputedly 100 servants now at Wrottesley, came to dominate village life more than ever.
The Wrottesley arms could be seen everywhere and the first Lord Wrottesley was noted for encouraging new farming methods and establishing a model farm.
But he was also an astute businessman who, with Francis Holyoake, established the Wolverhampton Bank which was eventually merged with the Midland Bank.
Well ahead of his time, he invented decimal currency, with double shillings of which there would be ten to the pound with one hundred farthings to the double shilling!
But the idea was talked out of Parliament and was to vanish for another 150 years.
When he died, Tettenhall was effectively closed down for his funeral.
Like his father, a steadfast Whig, he was an eminent scientist who became President of the Royal Society, with a great interest in astronomy.
He also became a founder and first president of the Astronomical Society.
Lord Wrottesley fought with distinction in World War II and is mentioned in “A Bridge Too Far”, the story of the battle for Arnhem.
He sold the great majority of his Staffordshire estates and moved to South Africa in 1963. And since then the Hall has passed into several different hands and is now divided into flats, housing at least three families.
Lord Wrottesley was interned nonetheless in the family vault beneath the chancel in St. Michael’s Church.
People of Tettenhall AI – People of Tettenhall JS – People of Tettenhall TZ – The Wrottesley Family