The Baron Saye and Sele is a title in the Peerage of England which has twice been created in favour of the Fiennes family, once on purpose and once quite accidentally. Naturally enough it is the accidental barony which has survived and is currently held by the Twisleton family, although they have most recently adopted the name of Fiennes.

1. The Fiennes

The family of Fiennes took their name from the village of Fiennes in Artois, which was originally part of Flanders, but now essentially forms the department of Pas-de-Calais in northern France. 'Fines' is the generally preferred modern pronunciation of the family name, although given that it was variously rendered in the past as Fenys, Fenlys etc, other pronunciations were likely adopted in the past, whilst of course the French would take an different view altogether.

The first undoubtedly historic member of the family was Eustace de Fiennes who was living at the time of the Norman Conquest of England, and was possibly related to various Flemish ruling families, whilst it has even been suggested that Eustace was the younger brother of the Robert de Bruges that was the ancestor of the Scottish royal House of Bruce. In any event it was Eustace's great-grandson Ingleram or Enguerrand de Fiennes, later killed at the siege of Acre in 1189, who married one Sibyl de Tingry, the daughter and heiress of a Pharamus de Boloin or de Tingry, who was himself related to Matilda of Boulogne, queen consort of king Stephen. This Pharamus had been granted estates extending across six counties by Stephen which naturally therefore passed into the hands of the Fiennes family and therefore established them as significant English landowners.

A sixth generation descendant of this Eustace was William Fiennes (1357–1402) of Herstmonceux in Sussex, whose elder son Roger Fiennes was the father of the Richard Fiennes who later obtained one of the versions of the title Baron Dacre. As it happened William also had a younger son named James Fiennes, who served in the Hundred Years War in France where he took part in the Agincourt campaign and in the subsequent patient conquest of Normandy, during which he made a fortune much of which he then spent on building himself a house at Knole in Kent. However his real rise to prominence began in 1440 when he became part of the circle of William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk (*), as a result of which he became the recipient of a stream of royal favours including various estates, wardships and offices, whilst also being created the Baron Saye and Sele by letters patent probably by the 24th February 1447.

His choice of title was influenced by the fact that he was descended from the previous line of the Barons Say or Saye through his grandmother, and chose the compound designation of Saye and Sale in order (presumably) not to annoy the existing line of the Barons Clinton, later Earls of Lincoln, who were in the habit of styling themselves as the 'Lords Clinton and Saye'. (The Sele in question was a priory in Kent located in what is now Seal, a village on the A25 between Sevenoaks and Maidstone.) Although he later managed to obtain a deed from the 5th Baron Clinton dated the 1st November 1448 which relinquished to him the right to the designation of Saye, this did not prevent subsequent Clintons from continuing to use the same style as before.

The 1st Baron pursued a particularly aggresive land acquisition policy in Kent which made him many enemies, added to which he was suspected of being responsible for the 'murder' of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. He therefore became one of the chief targets of Cade's Rebellion who identified him as one of the principle traitors behind Suffolk's government and responsible for the recent defeats in France. In order to appease the rebels, James was then arrested and sent to the Tower of London on the 19th June 1450. Taken to the Guildhall on the 4th July to face trial, he was seized by the mob and dragged to the Standard at Cheapside where he was summarily beheaded.

He was succeeded as the 2nd Baron by his son William, who oddly enough became something of a Yorkist and supporter of Edward IV. He fought for Edward at the battle of Northampton in 1460 and later became the Constable of Porchester Castle and Keeper of the New Forest, and married a Margaret Wykeham and thereby acquired Broughton Castle which thereafter became the family's chief residence. He later accompanied Edward IV on his flight to Flanders in 1470 and on his return to England in the following year, only to be killed at the battle of Barnet on the 14th April 1471.

2. The de jure Barons

In the circumstances it might be understandable why later generations of the family decided to stay out of public life, and there followed a sequence of holders of the title who, whilst they may have styled themselves as the Lord Saye and Sele, were never actually summoned to Parliament as such. First in this sequence of de jure barons was Henry, 3rd Baron who was the second but eldest surviving son of the 2nd Baron, and died on the 1st August 1476. He was succeeded by his only son, Richard, the 4th Baron who died on the 30th September 1501 and was followed by his only son Edward Fiennes, the 5th Baron, who died on the 7th March 1528 being followed in turn by his only son Richard, 6th Baron who went and died on the 3rd August 1573. In fact by the time that Richard, 7th Baron succeeded his father in 1573 it had been over a century since the last Baron Saye and Sele had sat in the House of Lords.

This in itself would explain why the 7th Baron faced such problems in persuading anyone that he was indeed the Baron Saye and Sele. He spent the best part of thirty years in an effort to obtain his seat in the House of Lords, but it wasn't until the accession of James I in 1603 that he was finally recognised as the Baron Saye and Seles (money probably changed hands) at which point Richard became both the de facto as well as the de jure 7th Baron.

The 7th Baron died shortly before the 6th February 1613 and was succeeded by his only son William who was later created the Viscount Saye and Sele on the 7th July 1624. The barony was therefore subsumed under this superior title, which remained the case until the death of Richard Fiennes, 6th Viscount Saye and Sele and 13th Baron on the 29th July 1781, He turned out be the last of the line and his death rendered both the barony and the viscountcy extinct.

3. The Accidental Barony

As noted above James Fiennes was created the Baron Saye and Seles by letters patent in 1447 which, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, meant that the title was limited to the heir male. However the actual patent disappeared and was never enrolled, and therefore it was mistakenly believed for some time that the creation had been by writ of summons and therefore passed to the heir general, thereby allowing the title to pass to and through the female line.

This distinction became relevant when the 7th Baron finally succeeded in persuading the crown to recognise his title in 1603, when king James I did so on certain conditions. Therefore although Richard Fiennes was given letters patent that confirmed him in the "name, style, title, rank, dignity, and honour of Baron Saye and Sele", he was only granted the precedence of 1603 rather than 1447, and because it was assumed at the time that the 1447 creation had been by writ of summons, and not by patent, it was specified that the title should pass to the heir general. Although it was presumably the intention that this new patent would serve simply as confirmation of the creation of 1447, the actual effect of this patent was to create an entirely new and separate barony of Saye and Sele which did pass to the heir general. (Not that anyone necessarily understood this at the time.)

This meant that Richard Fiennes, 7th Baron Saye and Sele of the 1447 creation was also the 1st Baron Saye and Sele of the 1603 creation, and the two baronies duly passed to his son and grandson in turn. However when James Fiennes, 2nd Viscount, and both the 9th Baron and the 3rd Baron died on the 15th March 1674; since all three of his sons had died in infancy, his only surviving issue were two daughters. Which meant that whereas the Viscounty and the 1447 Barony passed to the nearest heir male, the 1603 Barony fell into abeyance between his two daughters Elizabeth and Frances.

Elizabeth married a John Twisleton of Barley and Frances married an Andrew Ellis, and although both had issue, Frances's only daughter Cicely Ellis subsequently died without issue on the 22nd July 1715. This left Elizabeth's daughter Cecil Twisleton as the only living representative of the 3rd Baron Saye and Sele (1603 version) and automatically terminated the abeyance in her favour, making her the Baroness Saye and Sale in her own right and the fourth of her line.

4. The Twisletons

Cecil Twisleton married a George Twisleton (although no one knows whether or not they were previously related to one another) but neither she, nor indeed her son Fiennes Twisleton, the 5th Baron (de jure), ever assumed or claimed the title. It was the 5th Baron's only son, John Twisleton and 6th Baron (de jure) who first petitioned for the title, although the Committee for Priviliges declined to make a decision and appeared somewhat reluctant to recognise someone as the Baron Saye and Sele when there was already a pre-existing line of Viscounts Saye and Sele. The 6th Baron's eldest John was later killed in action at the battle of Brückmühle during the Seven Years War on the 21st September 1762, but his second son and heir Thomas Twisleton later pursued the claim with the House of Lords.

The Committee for Privileges subsequently decided in his favour on the 21st June 1781, and on the 29th June, exactly a month before the death of the last Viscount Saye and Sele on the 29th July, he was summoned to the House of Lords as the Baron Saye and Sele, by which time it must be presumed that the Viscount had no objection to awarding the barony of Saye and Sele to his second cousin three-times removed. As it happens the Committee for Privileges were pretty clear that Thomas Twisleton was "entitled to the Barony of Saye and Sele, created by Letters Patent in the first year of the reign of King James the First", rather than the one that had been created during the reign of King Henry the sixth. Not that this stopped later generations of Twisletons from putting about the story that the latter was the case, and falsely claiming that they were nth Baron in a line dating back to 1447. Said erroneous information was apparently still being reproduced in Burke's Peerage, at least until 1999 when Burke's began to adopt a more rigorously historical approach to such matters. In any event Thomas, 7th Baron committed suicide at Harley Street in London on the 1st July 1788 shortly after being told, it is said, that there was no cure for the constant headaches he was suffering from, and was succeeded by his son Gregory William as the 8th Baron.

The 8th Baron first adopted the name of Twisleton-Fiennes on the 14th February 1825 and then just over a month later on the 16th March changed it to Eardley-Twisleton-Fiennes in recognition that his wife Maria Marow Eardley was the eldest daughter and coheir of the first and last Baron Eardley of Spalding. He died on the 13th November 1844, and was succeeded by his only surviving child was a son named William Thomas who then died unmarried on the 31st March 1847, at which point the title passed to his first cousin Frederick Benjamin.

The 10th Baron, who began life as a Twisleton, adopted the surname of Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes by royal licence of the 14th February 1849, apparently in recognition of his descent from William of Wykeham. He was a minister in the Church of England, having been ordained in 1823 and later became the Archdeacon of Hereford in 1863. At his death on the 26th May 1887 he was succeeded by eldest son John who was a Liberal in politics, at least until 1886 when he became a Liberal Unionist and later died on the 8th October 1907. The 11th Baron was duly followed by his eldest son Geoffrey Cecil, a soldier who became Lieutenant-Colonel of the 3rd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, and served in both the Zulu War of 1879–1880 and in World War I as the Area Commandant for Flanders. The 12th Baron died on the 2nd February 1937, and was followed by his son Geoffrey Rupert, a barrister who also served during World War I as a major in the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars but later died unmarried on the 18th February 1949 and was followed by his younger brother, Ivo Murray. The 14th Baron was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Artillery during World War I, when he was mentioned in despatches and awarded the Croix de Guerre, and later also served in World War II before his death on the 21st October 1968.

He was succeeded by his son Nathaniel Thomas Allen, who is the present and 15th Baron Saye and Sele, having previously decided to adopt the surname of Fiennes by deed poll in 1965. He was a Major in the Rifle Brigade between 1941 and 1949 and was twice mentioned in despatches, although by profession he was a chartered surveyor and a partner in the firm of Laws and Fiennes, and also served as a trustee of the Ernest Cook Trust from 1960 until 1995 and was indeed chairman of the trustees for a number of years. The family still reside at Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire and retain ownership of an estate of some 1,800 acres.

As it happens various other members of the Twisleton family have also expressed a preference for the Fiennes surname, and thus both the actors Ralph Nathaniel Fiennes (better known simply as Ralph Fiennes), who is descended form a younger son of the 10th Baron, and his younger brother Joseph Alberic Fiennes (that is Joseph Fiennes), both warrant mentions in Burke's Peerage, since they are both potential (if unlikely) heirs to the title. The same applies to the explorer Ranulph Fiennes, who is a descendant of a younger son of the 11th Baron, although in his case he is a baronet, and therefore heads his own entry in Burke's.


THE BARONS SAYE AND SELE

FIENNES

Creation of 1447

The De Jure Barons

Title formally recognised by James I in 1603

Title extinct in 1781

Creation of 1603

FIENNES

Title in abeyance between 1674 and 1715

TWISLETON

The De Jure Barons

Title formally recognised in 1781


SOURCES

  • The entry for SAYE AND SELE from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition
  • George Edward Cokayne, Vicary Gibbs, et al, The Complete Peerage (St Catherine's Press, 1910-1959)
  • Danny D. Smith, The Fiennes Connection in the Old and New Worlds with Kudos to Hollywood
    http://www.newenglandancestors.org/education/articles/research/special_guests/
    member_staff/the_fiennes_collection_in_the_old_and_new_worlds_w_659_501.asp
  • Stirnet Genealogy at http://www.stirnet.com/HTML/genie/genfam.htm
  • Julia Abel Smith, Focus on Broughton Castle http://www.broughtoncastle.com/archive_historichouse.htm
  • The entries for Fiennes, James, first Baron Saye and Sele (c.1390–1450), and Fiennes, William, first Viscount Saye and Sele (1582–1662) from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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