An intimate family home and peaceful estate set in the rolling hills of the Chilterns. This picturesque 16th-century mansion and tranquil gardens were home to the Brunner family until recent years. Reopening in 2010 after two years of closure for conservation work, the house exudes a welcoming atmosphere with a well-stocked kitchen and homely living rooms. The series of walled gardens is a colourful patchwork of interest set amid medieval ruins. Other buildings from earlier eras include the Great Tower from the 12th century and a rare Tudor donkey wheel, in use until the early 20th century. (NT) A National Trust property, open to the public.
Greys Court is situated 3 miles W. of Henley. The manor was purchased in the reign of John by Walter de Grey, Archbishop of fork, who bequeathed part of it to his brother, Robert de Grey, and the rest to his nephew Walter (temp. Henry III.). A licence to crenellate was obtained by John de Grey, in 1348, from Edward III., this John being Baron of Rotherfield in 1361; and from this family the parish is called Rotherfield Greys.
Robert, Lord Grey, dying s.p. male, his only daughter Joan brought the property to her husband, Sir John d’Eyncourt; but as they had only two daughters, the estate went with one of them, Alice, in marriage to William, Lord Lovel, and continued in that family till the attainder of Francis, Viscount Lovel, after the Battle of Stoke, where he supported the Lambert Simnel insurrection against Henry VII., and where he was said to have been drowned in escaping across the river Trent (see CASTLE CARY, SOJIERSET). Another tradition makes him to have lived long after in a cave or vault. In Banks “Dormant and Extinct Baronage”, however, is given a letter written by William Cowper, Clerk to the Parliament, in 1737, which states: “Apropos to this tradition: on the 6th of May, 1728, the present Duke of Rutland related in my hearing that about twenty years then before—viz., in 1708, upon occasion of new laying a chimney at Minster Luvel (Oxfordshire), there was discovered a large vault or room under ground, in which was the entire skeleton of a man, as having been sitting at a table, which was before him, with a book, paper, pen, &c. &c.; in another part of the room lay a cap, all much mouldered and decayed. Which the family and others judged to be this Lord Luvel, whose exit has hitherto been so uncertain.” And in Gough’s “Additions to Camden” (ed. 1789) the same circumstance is narrated, with the addition, that the clothing of the body seemed to have been rich; that it was seated in a chair, at a table with a mass-book before it; and also that, upon the admission of the air, the body soon fell to dust. As the Battle of Stoke was fought on June 16, 1487, some 220 years must have passed before the discovery of the fate of this poor creature, a victim, possibly, to the neglect of a servant or friend.
Henry VII. gave the estate to Jasper, Duke of Bedford, and Henry VIII. presented it to Robert Knollys, whose descendant, namely the Treasurer of the household, Sir Francis Knollys, was in possession of Greys Court in the time of Elizabeth. From him it came to the Paul family, and about the year 1700 to the Stapletons, by the marriage of Catherine, the heiress of William Paul of Braywick, Berks, to Sir William Stapleton, Bart., in which family the place continues, the present owner being Sir Francis Stapleton, Bart.
Greys Court stands on sloping ground, hawing a steep declivity to the S., overlooking the valley; the original enclosure formed an irregular parallelogram covering 1¼ acres, and the mansion-house of the seventeenth century stands altogether within this area on the W. side. Only the outer wall of the E. side remains of the ancient castle, but four of its towers still exist. There is a square one in the N.E. corner, set diagonally, with two buttresses at the outer angles; this probably had four storeys, but the two upper ones are gone, and the tower is much ruined. About 48 feet S. of this angle bastion is another square tower projecting from the curtain wall, which contained four storeys, and is surmounted with battlements, at an elevation of about 54 feet; the lower stages of both towers have loops or oillets. The wall joining these, as well as the towers themselves, are certainly the work of John de Grey.
Further S. of this portion the E. wall still remains, though in reduced thickness, as far as the S.E. corner, where is an octangular tower, 16 feet in diameter externally, containing three storeys, surmounted with a low conical roof, which rises from inside the parapet. A similar tower terminated the other end of the S. front curtain, but this has disappeared, as has also the tower at the N.W. corner of the fortress. The length of the S. front was about 340 feet, and that of the E. wall 210, but both the N. and W. curtains have vanished. The towers and walls are built of flint, with stone quoins and dressings.
There is a small brick building attached to the tower at the S.E. angle, to which the name of “Bachelors’ Hall” is given, on account of a leaden inscription on it of the seventeenth century, having the words Melius nil caelibe vita, the derivation of which is not known. Also on the line of the old S. wall, near the S.W. angle, is a building containing the castle well, which has been sunk 210 feet into the chalk, and is worked by a donkey wheel, as is done at Carisbrooke and Patcham. All the brickwork is excellent, the bricks being of very small size.
The existing mansion retains three gables and several windows with transoms and mullions of perhaps the fifteenth century; it is mostly of brick. Here lived for a long time the worthless favourite of James I., Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, and his wife, the divorcee Countess of Essex. Carr was brought from Scotland as a page by James, and, some years later, was knighted by him and endowed with Raleigh’s lands and house of Sherborne. It was to the widow of that great man, pleading in vain for the restitution of her children’s property, that the refusal was made as related under Sherborne (q.v.). Carr was afterwards made Lord Rochester, and, in 1613, Earl of Somerset. In 1614, he and his wife were tried for the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, by poison administered to him in the Tower, in revenge for his opposition to Lady Essex’s divorce, when they were found guilty, Lady Somerset, indeed, pleading guilty. James had no intention, however, of allowing either of them to be executed, and kept them in the Tower till January 1622, when they both received a pardon, and Somerset retired into obscurity until his death in 1645. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)