Monday, 4 January 2021

Abbeyleix House


This and the illustrious family of De Burgh, Marquesses and Earls of Clanricarde, derive from a common progenitor; namely,

JOHN, Earl of Comyn and Baron of Tonsburgh, Normandy, son of BALDWIN II of Boulogne, founder of the house of BLOIS, in France.

From the eldest son of this noble John descended the house of Clanricarde; and from the younger,

EUSTACE DE BURGE, Baron of Tonsburgh, that of which we are now to treat.

This Eustace had two sons, Charles and John, both companions in arms of WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR.

The elder son,

CHARLES, built the castle of Knaresborough, in Yorkshire, and was succeeded by his brother,

JOHN FITZ RICHARD, who wedded Margaret, aunt of King STEPHEN, and was succeeded by his eldest son,

EUSTACE FITZ JOHN, feudal lord of Knaresborough, who espoused Beatrix, daughter and sole heir of Ivo de Vesci, by Alda, only daughter and heir of William Tyson, Lord of Alnwick, and was succeeded by his elder son,

WILLIAM, who assumed the name and arms of VESCI, and had a grant from HENRY II of Alnwick Castle.
He was sheriff of Northumberland during the greater part of that reign, and was a principal commander in the battle fought near Alnwick, wherein the Scottish army sustained a signal overthrow.
This William's elder son,

EUSTACE DE VESCI (1169-1216), one of the twenty-five feudal barons appointed to enforce the observance of MAGNA CARTA, married Margaret, daughter of WILLIAM, King of Scotland.

This nobleman was succeeded by his son,

WILLIAM DE VESCI, who espoused firstly, Isabel, daughter of William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury; and secondly, Agnes, eldest daughter of William Ferrers, Earl of Derby; and in right of the latter had a share of those lands assigned to him in Ireland, belonging to William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke.

He died in 1253, and was succeeded by his eldest son,

JOHN DE VESCI, who was summoned to parliament, 1264, as Baron Vesci.

His lordship dsp 1289, and was succeeded by his brother,

WILLIAM DE VESCI, who was summoned to parliament in 1295, and was one of the competitors for the crown of Scotland during the reign of EDWARD I.

This nobleman was Justice in Eyre for all the royal forests beyond Trent, and one of the Justices-Itinerant touching the pleas of the forest, Governor of Scarborough Castle, and Lord Justice of Ireland, where he was Lord of Kildare.

His lordship died in 1297, leaving an only daughter, Isabel; and the male line of his family was continued by his brother,

THOMAS DE VESCI, who settled in Newlands, Cumberland, where the family continued until his descendant,

WILLIAM VESEY, having the misfortune to kill his antagonist in a duel, fled into Scotland, whence he removed to Ireland, in the reign of ELIZABETH I.

He wedded a daughter of the family of Ker of Cessford, and was succeeded by his only son,

THE VEN THOMAS VESEY, Archdeacon of Armagh, 1655; whose son and heir,

THE MOST REV JOHN VESEY (1638-1716), was consecrated Lord Archbishop of Tuam.

This learned prelate, who was thrice one of the Lords Justices of Ireland, left issue,
Agmondisham, ancestor of the Earls of Lucan;
John, in holy orders;
Mary; Elizabeth; Anne.
His Grace was succeeded by his eldest son,

THOMAS VESEY (c1668-1730), who was created a baronet in 1698, designated of Abbeyleix, Queen's County.

Sir Thomas, subsequently taking holy orders, was consecrated Lord Bishop of Killaloe in 1713, and translated to the see of Ossory in the following year.

He wedded Mary, only surviving daughter and heir of Denny Muschamp, of Horsley, Surrey, Muster-Master-General of Ireland, and his wife, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of the Most Rev Michael Boyle, Lord Archbishop of Armagh, by whom he had issue, two daughters, and a son, 

SIR JOHN DENNY VESEY, 2nd Baronet, who was elevated to the peerage, in 1750, by the title of Baron Knapton.

He espoused, in Elizabeth, daughter of William Brownlow MP, of Lurgan, County Armagh, by the Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, his wife, daughter of the 6th Earl of Abercorn, and had issue,
THOMAS, his successor;
Elizabeth; Anne; Jane.
His lordship died in 1761, and was succeeded by his son,

THOMAS, 2nd Baron (1735-1804), who was created, in 1776, VISCOUNT DE VESCI, of Abbey Leix.

His lordship married, in 1769, Selina Elizabeth, eldest daughter and co-heir of the Rt Hon Sir Arthur Brooke Bt, of Colebrooke, County Fermanagh, by whom he had issue,
JOHN, his successor;
Arthur, in holy orders;
Selina, m Andrew Nugent, of Portaferry.
He was succeeded by his eldest son,

JOHN, 2nd Viscount (1771-1855), of Abbey Leix, who wedded, in 1800, Frances Letitia, daughter of the Rt Hon William Brownlow, of Lurgan, County Armagh, by whom he had issue,
THOMAS, his successor;
William John;
His lordship was succeeded by his eldest son,

THOMAS, 3rd Viscount (1803-75),
The heir apparent is the present holder's second son, the Hon Oliver Ivo Vesey.

In a Country Life article of 1991, entitled Abbeyleix, County Laois ...’, the late John Cornforth provided a short but still serviceable account of Vesey family history, largely based on the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland list of the de Vesci papers as it then stood:
... The Veseys first appeared in Ireland in the second quarter of the 17th century and, like a surprising number of families, rose through service in the Church of Ireland. The first of them, the Venerable Thomas, ended up as Archdeacon of Armagh in 1655 and died in 1662.

Both his sons followed him into the Church, the elder one, John, becoming Archbishop of Tuam [in 1679], a Privy Councillor and a Lord Justice of Ireland. Three of the Archbishop’s five sons also entered the church, with Thomas, the eldest, being made a baronet [in 1698] and a bishop [in 1713], in his father’s lifetime. He had the foresight to marry, [in 1699, Mary Muschamp], the granddaughter of an even more distinguished Archbishop, Michael Boyle, who was both Primate [1678-1702] and Lord Chancellor [1665-85]. ...

Through this marriage, Sir Thomas Vesey acquired the Abbeyleix estate, which was given to the couple as Mary’s marriage portion, by her father, Denny Muschamp. Muschamp was a tax farmer and land speculator as well as adviser to his father-in-law, Archbishop Boyle, and he became involved in Abbeyleix in 1675 through buying the rest of a 99-year Crown lease from the trustees of the will of Sir Edward Massey, an act that immediately led to litigation with the trustees and the beneficiaries of the will. That, together with other complications, led to a series of claims and counter-claims that caused the case to drag on until 1769. ... 
In 1995, the 7th and present Lord de Vesci sold Abbey Leix sold most of the demesne (excluding, however, the part which went with Knapton).

The purchasers were Sir David Davies, an international banker and businessman, and his wife, Linda, whose ‘spectacular restoration’ of the house carried forward the de Vesci tradition of improvement and was the subject of an article by Jeremy Musson entitled ‘Abbeyleix, County Laois ...’, published in Country Life on the 24th July, 2003.

Sir David has recounted his friendship with the late Lady Dufferin and how she gave him an Irish Moiled bull and heifer to start his own herd at Abbey Leix.

Prior to the sale of the house and its residual contents, Lord de Vesci had removed, among many other things, his collection of family portraits and the archive.

However, later in 1995, agreement was reached for the sale of the latter to the National Library of Ireland, where it is now made more easily and widely accessible by the publication of the present catalogue. 

The de Vesci Papers are deposited at the NLI.

Thomas Eustace Vesey, 7th and present Viscount de Vesci (b 1955) is managing director of Horticultural Coir Limited.

Entrance Front (Image: Sotheby's)

ABBEYLEIX HOUSE is a seven-bay, three-storey over basement with dormer attic Classical-style country house, begun 1773, with a pedimented breakfront having a cut stone Doric door-case to the ground floor.

Five-bay elevation to garden front with breakfront having cut sandstone door-case and Wyatt style window openings to flanking bays.

(Image: Sotheby's)

Two-bay single-storey wing to west, renovated ca 1840, with façade enrichments added.

It was extended to the west, post-1902, comprising a seven-bay single-storey wing with breakfront having three-bay advanced centre bay. Balustraded forecourt of ca 1840, to the north.

(Image: Sotheby's)

Formal gardens, post-1839, to south comprising series of artificial terraces with balustrades, flights of steps and ha-has.

ABBEY LEIX ESTATE is currently for sale (January, 2021). Sotheby's describe it thus:-
   "A splendid and most distinguished Irish 18th-century mansion positioned within a remarkable and ancient woodland demesne of over 1,000 acres.

Abbey Leix is one of the most venerable 18th-century houses in Ireland and, following a spectacular restoration, it is also one of the most congenial.

In any list of important Irish country houses Abbey Leix has a prominent place.

The late-18th-century mansion, clothed in the Italianate manner in 1859-60, enjoys a remarkable position within a private estate comprising some 1,120 acres and includes some of Ireland’s most notable remaining ancient woodland and extensive frontage to the River Nore.

The accommodation is grand and beautifully executed with the mansion comprising some 26,910 square feet or 2,500 square metres.

The mansion is augmented by ten lodges and cottages on the estate.

Abbey Leix was designed in 1773 by the noted architect James Wyatt.

The house is an elegant three-storey Classical mansion of seven bays, the three central bays under a triangular pediment.

The arrangement of rooms is elegant and simple, with three major rooms on the park front.

There is a deep hall, with a screen of columns separating it from the east-west-running staircase hall and corridor.

The music-room at the south-eastern corner of the house retains the light, decorative plasterwork for which Wyatt was so admired.

Plaster roundels framed by swags of husks were decorated with grisaille by the artist De Gree a few years after completion, probably about 1785.

In the middle of the 19th-century the Italianate character was adopted and the great Classical library and a conservatory were added.

At the same time the front of the house was enclosed within an Entrance Court with terraces added to the rear.

A comprehensive and sympathetic restoration was undertaken in 1995 [by the new owner, Sir David Davies CBE].

A new state dining-room was created.

The whole north-west corner of the accommodation was redesigned to provide a new family room, kitchen and butler’s pantry.

A considerable programme of conservation of the major rooms followed.

The works create a 21st-century family home with an appropriate balance between comfort and informality on the one hand and grandeur for entertaining and the display of art on the other.

Abbey Leix has one of the most important collections of trees in Ireland.

Whereas elsewhere in Ireland the primeval forests of oak, birch, alder and willow have been almost entirely depleted, the woods on Park Hill across the river from the house are among the last surviving remnants of Ireland’s ancient woodland.

Abbey Leix, like so many places in Ireland, owes its origins to religious settlement, and specifically to the French Cistercian monks who came to Ireland in the mid-12th-century.

The present demesne evolved out of the monastery’s granges, woods and fields.

One tree, the oldest oak in Ireland still survives from this period.

The de Vesci family fashioned a landscape as beautiful as the house they built during their ownership between 1675 and 1995.

A stud farm is positioned within the original farmstead and includes an attractive range of cut-stone outbuildings.

A beautiful principal yard, complete with a clock tower, was built of local limestone in 1822.

The quadrangular yard contains 24 loose boxes.

A separate farmyard has a range of farm sheds.

The farmland provides good grazing.

The limestone soil is ideal for rearing and keeping bloodstock, being well laid out in well sheltered and gently undulating fields and paddocks."
The house is set within a landscaped demesne approached by gravel drive; balustraded formal courtyard to Entrance Front with gravel drive and grass centrepiece; group of formal gardens to Garden Front including series of artificial terraces with balustrades, flights of steps and rubble stone ha-has; pond to sheltered garden to south-west. 
De Vesci arms courtesy of European Heraldry.  First published in December, 2011.

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