The title of the Baron FitzWalter is a barony by writ in the Peerage of England, first created in 1295 and remains extant to this day.

The FitzWalters of Woodham Walter

The FitzWalters were a junior branch of the Clare family, being descended from Robert Fitz Richard, one of the younger sons of Richard Fitz Gilbert alias Richard de Clare, cousin to king William I. It was Walter Fitz Robert who came into possession of the manor of Woodham, later Woodham Walter in Essex, whilst his son Robert Fitz Walter became one of the leaders of the baronial opposition to king John and one of the twenty-five signatories of Magna Carta, being later killed at the siege of Damietta in Egypt on the 9th December 1235.

It was however his grandson another Robert FitzWalter who was first to be summoned to Parliament by writ on the 23rd June 1295 addressed to 'Roberto filio Walteri' whereby he is held to have become the Lord or Baron FitzWalter. Like many of his contemporaries this honour was most likely bestowed in recognition of his martial prowess, since he had been engaged in a long running military career, having fought in Wales in both 1277 and 1282, and in France in 1286. He was again to be found fighting in France in 1296–1297, and also in Scotland where he was present at both the battle of Falkirk in 1298 and the siege of Caerlaverock in 1300.

The 1st Baron died on the 18th January 1326 when he was succeeded by his son from his second marriage, Robert FitzWalter. The 2nd Baron married Joan, the daughter of Thomas Multon, 1st Baron Multon, and thereby obtained the lordship of Egremont in Cumberland, but died on the 6th May 1328 when he was probably in his early thirties. He was followed by his eldest son John who was about fourteen at the time. However once the 3rd Baron was somewhat older he joined a gang of local gentry who terrorised parts of Essex, and at one time he even layed siege to the town of Colchester after some of the town's inhabitants had allegedly trespassed on his park at Lexden. For this and other offences he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1352 with his entire estate declared forfeit. It was only restored to him in return for the payment of a fine of £847, which was a reasonably substantial sum at the time, but fortunately he was allowed to pay by installments leaving but a single farthing outstanding at his death on the 18th October 1361.

His son and successor named Walter, was like his grandfather engaged in fighting the Hundred Years War, although in his case he was captured during a raid into France in 1370 and his family back home were required to raise a ransom of £1,000 to secure his release. He was later appointed admiral in 1382, and joined John of Gaunt on another foreign expedition in 1386 in the course of which he died near Oronse in Galicia on the 26th September that year. The 4th Baron was succeeded in turn by his son also named Walter who was on a voyage from Rome to Naples when was captured by Saracens and taken to Tunis where he was kept him prisoner until ransomed by Genoese merchants. It is said that he never fully recovered from his ordeal and died at Venice on the 16th May 1406.

Humphrey the 6th Baron thereby inherited his father's lands at the age of eight, but died at the age of sixteen on the 1st September 1415 and was succeeded by his brother Walter. The 7th Baron became the Master of the King's Harthounds in 1420 and later continued the family's agressive traditions and joined the war in France despite being not yet of age, but was taken prisoner at the battle of Baugé in 1421. Although he was later released and took livery of his father's lands in 1423, he died whilst serving as a field commander in France on the 25th November 1431. Sadly both of his sons died as infants, and the 7th Baron's only surviving child was a daughter named Elizabeth, and having been born on the 28th July 1430, she was only a few months old at the time.

The Radcliffes

In accordance with latter doctrine, Elizabeth is now recognised as the Baroness FitzWalter in her own right, and later married a John Radcliffe of Attleborough in Norfolk, being succeeded by her son John at her death sometime before the 22nd August 1485. The 9th Baron however made a habit of quarrelling with his neighbours and as a result was deprived of his local offices, which may be why he actively supported the pretender Perkin Warbeck in 1493. When his treachery was discovered he was arrested and delivered to court on the 20th January 1495 and condemned for treason. He was subsequently transported to the fortress of Guines in Calais where, after a failed escape attempt, he was executed sometime around the 24th November 1496.

His son Robert Radcliffe obtained an Act of Parliament in 1509 to reverse the attainder on his father, having already obtained letters patent from the king to the same effect in 1505, and thereby became the 10th Baron FitzWalter. He was subsequently created the Viscount FitzWalter on the 18th June 1525 and then the Earl of Sussex on the 8th December 1529. The title Baron FitzWalter remained as one of the subsidiary titles of the Radcliffe Earls of Sussex, although it is worth noting that the 3rd Earl later sat in the House of Lords during his father's lifetime between the years 1553 to 1557 as the Baron FitzWalter before he succeeded to the earldom, whilst of course the eldest son and heir generally used the courtesy title of the Viscount FitzWalter and was therefore commonly known as the Lord FitzWalter in any case.

The 5th Earl of Sussex later died without issue on the 22nd September 1629 at which point both the viscountcy and earldom passed to his cousin and heir male, only to expire with his death in August 1643.

The Mildmays

The doctrine of barony by writ was still in its infancy at the time, and therefore the notion that such 'ancient' baronies as that of FitzWalter could be inherited by and through the female line was not widely accepted. It as however later determined that the title should have passed into the hands of one Henry Mildmay whose mother Frances was the only daughter of the 2nd Earl of Sussex and 10th Baron. Henry Mildmay duly petitioned Parliament for the title without success on both the 9th August 1641 and 17th June 1645 before his death in 1654. By that time his son Robert had predeceased him, but his grandson and heir, also Henry Mildmay, again petitioned the House of Lords in August 1660 but died unmarried in March 1662 before any particular decision was reached.

In this case Henry's petition was opposed by one Robert Cheek who was the heir of another Frances, being the only sister (and therefore heir general) of the 6th and last Earl of Sussex. Robert Cheek contented that the barony had became attached to the earldom, and that the barony ought to descend on the basis of tenure, that is on with the land which happened to be in the possession of said Robert Cheek. This claim served to delay matters for a time, but Henry's younger brother Benjamin later revived the claim in February 1667 and since Parliament was prorogued at the time, Charles II referred the matter to the Privy Council. After considering the matter they dismissed the arguments of Robert Cheek and ruled in Benjamin Mildmay's favour, and he was summoned to Parliament on the 10th February 1670, thereby becoming the 17th Baron Fitzwalter and retrospectively bestowing the title on his two predecessors. He was not however granted the precedence of the original creation in 1295, but rather as the last baron created in Edward I's reign which ended in 1307, simply because a number of the existing barons objected to the idea of a comparative newcomer being granted a superior precedence.

After his death on the 1st June 1679 the 17th Baron was succeeded by his son Charles, the 18th Baron who later died, certainly without any legitimate issue, on the 16th February 1728 and was succeeded by his younger brother Benjamin. The 19th Baron gave up his post as a Commissioner of Excise and took up his seat in the House of Lords and took up a political career being later created the Viscount Harwich and Earl Fitzwalter on the 16th May 1735. He served as the President of the Board of Trade in 1735 to 1737, following which he was Treasurer of the Household from 1737 until 1755 but again died without legitimate issue on the 29th February 1756. His death rendered extinct both of the titles granted to him in 1735, whilst he left the bulk of his estates to a distant cousin and baronet named William Mildmay. The barony of FitzWalter however fell into abeyance between the daughters of Mary, the sister of both the 16th and 17th Barons, who had herself married a distant cousin named Henry Mildmay and died earlier in 1715.

The Brookes and Plumptres of Goodneston

As it happens Mary Mildmay had quite a number of children, but most died as infants, and there were only two daughters who survived and themselves bore issue. The eldest Lucy, married a Thomas Gardiner of Tollesbury in Essex, and her heir, a granddaughter named Jemima married a Robert Duke of Colchester and then emigrated to the United States and disappeared from view. The youngest Frances married a Christopher Fowler, and their eldest son Edmund Fowler died leaving an only daughter named Fanny Fowler who married Brook Bridges, 3rd Baronet.

It was to be almost a century later before Brook William Bridges, 5th Baronet of Goodneston, put forward a claim to the title in 1842, although in his case the Committee for Privileges rejected his claim in 18th July 1844, simply noting that the title was in abeyance between him and the "descendants (if any) of Jemima Duke". As it happens the real issue in this case was the Brooke William Bridges was a Conservative, the government Liberal, and thus disinclined to favour his claim, although it favoured the far more tenuous claims of those who shared its politics. In Brooke's case he later received some element of compensation when he was created the Baron FitzWalter of Woodham Walter on the 17th April 1868. (By which time there was a Conservative government in office.) This creation of the title was limited to male heirs and so when the first and only Baron FitzWalter of Woodham Walter died without issue on the 6th September 1875 it became extinct.

His closest relative was a sister named Eleanor who married the Reverend Henry Western Plumptre, the Rector of Eastwood in Nottinghamshire. As it happened Eleanor (and therefore the Plumptre family) inherited the estate at Goodneston together with the claim on the FitzWalter title, and it was Eleanor's grandson Henry Fitzwalter Plumptre who later revived the claim on the title. In Henry's case the claim was successful and he became the 20th Baron FitzWalter when summoned to Parliament by writ on the 30th September 1924, which served to terminate the abeyance in his favour some one hundred and sixty-eight years after the death of the last holder of the title.

Henry then died without issue on the 12th September 1932, at which point the title became dormant. The title probably should have passed to his younger brother Francis Fitzherbert Plumptre who died unmarried on the 3rd November 1943, but for some reason he failed to claim the title. A reference in his nephews's obituary notice that Francis "had been unable to inherit" would imply that he was in some way mentally incapacitated. In any event, by the time of Francis's death, the last surviving and youngest of the four brothers, George Beresford Plumptre was also dead, but he did leave a son named FitzWalter Brook who subsequently claimed the title and was summoned to Parliament by writ dated the 28th May 1953, and duly became the 21st Baron.

The 21st Baron married Margaret Deedes, the youngest sister of the journalist William Deedes, and later earned recognition for his work on the restoration and development of the gardens at his family home of Goodnestone Park, and for becoming a particularly outstanding breeder of Sussex beef cattle. He died on the 14th October 2004 and was succeeded by the eldest of his five sons, Julian Brook who is the current and 22nd Baron FitzWalter.


THE BARONS FITZWALTER
(together with one Earl FitzWalter and one Baron FitzWalter of Woodham Walter)

Creation of 1295

FITZWALTER

RADCLIFFE

Title forfeit in 1495, restored in 1506

MILDMAY

The de jure barons

Title confirmed in 1670

BRIDGES

Creation of 1868

PLUMPTRE

The creation of 1295 was revived in 1924, having determined to have been in abeyance since 1756

Title dormant between 1932 and 1953


SOURCES

  • Christopher Starr, ‘Fitzwalter family (per. c.1200–c.1500)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 (Although this source confusingly decides to discount the 2nd Baron referred to above on the grounds that he wasn't summoned to parliament.)
  • George Edward Cokayne, Vicary Gibbs, et al, The Complete Peerage (St Catherine's Press, 1910-1959)
  • The entry for FitzWALTER from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition
  • History of Goodnestone http://www.goodnestoneparkgardens.co.uk/history.html

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