In 1565, HUGH FITZWILLIAM (c1534-c1576), of Emley, Sprotbrough, and Haddlesey, Yorkshire, collected the records of his family, and from these records the following particulars are partly deduced:
SIR WILLIAM FITZ GODRIC, cousin to EDWARD THE CONFESSOR, left a son and heir,
SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM,
who, being ambassador at the court of WILLIAM, Duke of Normandy, attended that prince in his victorious expedition against England, as marshal of the army, in 1066; and for his valour at the battle of Hastings, THE CONQUEROR presented him with a scarf from his own arm.This Sir William was father of
SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, Knight, who wedded Eleanor, daughter and heiress of Sir John Emley, of Emley and Sprotbrough,
by which marriage the Fitzwilliams obtained the lordships of Emley and Sprotbrough, which continued with them until the reign of HENRY VIII, when those lordships were carried, by co-heirs, into the families of Suthill and Copley.Sir William was succeeded by his son,
SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, Lord of Emley and Sprotbrough, living in 1117, as appears from a grant made by him of a piece of the wood in Emley to the monks of Byland.
To this grant, in a round seal, is represented a man on horseback, completely armed and circumscribed S. Willmi Filij Willmi Dni de Emmalaia; and on the reverse, the arms of FITZWILLIAM, viz. Lozenge.
This Sir William, or one of his descendants, caused a cross to be set up in the high street of Sprotbrough; which cross was pulled down in 1520.
From this Sir William we pass to his descendant,
SIR JOHN FITZWILLIAM, who founded, in 1372, the Chantry of St Edward in the church of Sprotbrough; and having married Elizabeth, daughter of William de Clinton, 1st Earl of Huntingdon, had three sons, the eldest of whom,
SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, married Maud, daughter of Ralph, 3rd Lord Cromwell, of Tattershall, and co-heir of the Lord Treasurer Cromwell, by whom he had one son and two daughters.
He was succeeded by his son,
SIR JOHN FITZWILLIAM, who wedded Eleanor, daughter of Sir Henry Green, of Drayton, and had six sons. The youngest son,
JOHN FITZWILLIAM, of Milton Hall and Greens Norton, in Northamptonshire, espoused Eleanor, daughter of William Villiers, of Brooksby, Leicestershire, by whom he had three sons and two daughters, and was succeeded by his eldest son,
THE RT HON SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, (c1460-1534), Knight, of Milton and Gaynes Park, Essex, and also of the city of London, of which he was sheriff in 1506.
Sir William married firstly, Anne, daughter of Sir John Hawes, Knight, of the city of London, and had,
WILLIAM, his heir;He wedded secondly, Mildred, daughter of Richard Sackville, of Withyham, Sussex, and had three sons and two daughters,
Christopher;Sir William was succeeded by his eldest son,
SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, Knight, who espoused Anne, daughter of Sir Richard Sapcote, of Elton, Huntingdonshire; and was succeeded by his son and heir,
SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM (1526-99), Lord Deputy of Ireland and a Lord Justice, who wedded Anne, daughter of Sir William Sydney, and aunt of the 1st Earl of Leicester, and had issue,
WILLIAM, his heir;Sir William was succeeded by his son,
Mary; Philippa; Margaret.
SIR WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM, Knight, of Milton and Gaynes Park Hall, who was elevated to the peerage, in 1620, by the title Baron Fitzwilliam, of Lifford, County Donegal.
His lordship wedded Catherine, daughter of William Hyde, of Denchworth, Berkshire; and dying in 1644, was succeeded by his elder son,
WILLIAM, 2nd Baron (c1609-58), who espoused, in 1638, Jane, daughter and co-heir of Alderman Hugh Perry, of London, and had,
WILLIAM, his heir;His lordship was succeeded by his eldest surviving son,
Jane, m to Sir Christopher Wren, the celebrated architect.
His lordship married Anne, daughter and sole heir of Edmund Cremor, of West Winch, Norfolk, by whom he had four sons and six daughters.
He was succeeded by his third, but eldest surviving son,
JOHN, 2nd Earl (1681-1728), who wedded Anne, daughter and sole heir of John Stringer, of Sutton-cum-Lound, Nottinghamshire; and left, with three daughters, a son and successor,
WILLIAM, 3rd Earl (1719-56), then a minor, who was, in 1742, enrolled amongst the peers of Great Britain, by GEORGE II, by the style and title of Lord Fitzwilliam, Baron Milton, in Northamptonshire.
In 1746, this nobleman was advanced to an English viscountcy and earldom, as EARL FITZWILLIAM, in the same county.
His lordship espoused, in 1744, Lady Anne Watson-Wentworth, eldest daughter of Thomas, Marquess of Rockingham, and sister and co-heir of Charles, 2nd Marquess, by whom he had
WILLIAM, his successor;
WILLIAM, 4th Earl (1748-1833), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for a very short period, in 1795.
He married firstly, in 1770, Lady Charlotte Ponsonby, second daughter of William, 2nd Earl of Bessborough, by whom he had an only child, CHARLES WILLIAM WENTWORTH, his heir.
Charles William, 5th Earl (1786-1857)
William Charles, Viscount Milton (1812-35)
William Thomas Spencer, 6th Earl (1815-1902)
William, Viscount Milton (1839-77)
William Charles de Meuron, 7th Earl (1872-1943)
(William Henry Lawrence) Peter, 8th Earl (1910-48)
Eric Spencer, 9th Earl (1883-1952)
William Thomas George, 10th Earl (1904-79).
The history of the Wentworth/Fitzwilliam families has been well documented, but what is less well known is the influence they had on the history of the kingdom of Ireland.
As well as the family seat of Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire (where they owned 22,000 acres in 1870), the Earls Fitzwilliam also resided at Malton House (later Coollattin House) in County Wicklow, from where they managed their vast estate.
Coollattin is now a golf club.
The 4th Earl built Coollattin House (it was originally called Malton, one of his grandfather’s titles as Earl of Malton).
The house was designed by the leading architect John Carr, who was also responsible for the grandiose “stable block” at Wentworth Woodhouse as well as the Keppel’s Column and Mausoleum monuments near Wentworth.
The building was started around 1794 but before completion it was burned down in a rebellion in 1798 (along with 160 other houses in the nearby village of Carnew and several Catholic churches).
Work resumed again in 1800 and the house was completed in 1807.
As well as rebuilding their house and the village, the Fitzwilliams contributed to the repairs of the Catholic churches and gave land for other churches (whilst other landlords would not even allow a Catholic church on their estate).
Throughout the family’s time in Ireland they did not take sides in the various Irish struggles through the centuries, and perhaps as a consequence their house was left untouched in the last dash for independence.
As well as undertaking building and agricultural projects, the 4th Earl was also the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for a short time in 1795.
In 2003, The Times newspaper wrote:
When the 10th and last Earl died in 1979 the remnants of the huge Coollattin estate, for centuries the Irish seat of the Earls of Fitzwilliam, was sold by the last Earl’s widow, Lady Juliet De Chairoff, and in the following years, it was broken up and sold on bit by bit.
In 1983, the sprawling Coollattin House, with its vast lands attached, was resold for €128,000. When the farm land value was removed, this amounted to just £8,000 for the house itself — which, with its 120-plus rooms, is still among the largest private houses in the country. In the same year the average price of a standard new home in Dublin was more than four times that, at £35,000.
In living memory, the once-grand Coollattin estate had spanned 88,000 acres, had 20,000 tenants and comprised one quarter of Co Wicklow. There has long been a rumour that the estate harboured a vast tunnel used by inhabitants of the house to escape to the lodge.
The estate began falling apart in 1948 when the last earl, Peter Fitzwilliam, was killed in a plane crash with JFK’s sister, Kathleen (Kick) Kennedy, with whom, it was speculated, he had been having an affair.
His estate tenants genuinely grieved. The Fitzwilliams had a history of being among the most liberal landlords in Ireland. They had paid tenants more, invested in their education and had worked hard to ensure that the built environment in their towns was above average.
When the Great Famine came, the Fitzwilliam family were at least decent enough to ship their excess tenants to America rather than simply turn them off the land as many landlords did. Thousands were sent abroad to start new lives in this manner.
Perhaps this was the reason Coollattin House survived the great burning sprees that erupted through and after the war of independence, when working classes took their revenge on the less benevolent owners of big house.
TODAY, the house is owned by Anne Agnew, who restored it from a decrepit state.
Now that she is selling, Agnew has thrown light on the mystery of the tunnel, that has puzzled generations of people:
There has always been a belief that the Fitzwilliams had a massive escape tunnel which locals believed connected Coollattin House to Coollattin Lodge.
They say that the hidden tunnel is wide and high enough to drive a carriage and four through it. In fact, I can confirm that we did find a hidden tunnel. It was in the yard at the back of the lodge and hidden under scrub.
My son found a rotted wooden cover and under it was a hole which fell down 10ft before running away underground. It’s 5ft high, 5ft wide and stone-lined with a rounded, vaulted ceiling.
He climbed into it one day with the help of a ladder and followed it for about a quarter of a mile before an old iron grid stopped him going any further.
So yes, there is a tunnel here, and we don’t know where it goes, but it doesn’t run towards Coollattin House — it runs the other way".
Former seats ~ Coollattin Park, County Wicklow; Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire; Milton Hall, Cambridgeshire.
Former town residence ~ 4 Grosvenor Square, London.
First published in July, 2011. Fitzwilliam arms courtesy of European Heraldry.