A Lacock Abbey Story

In the excellent BBC TV documentary series, ‘Thatcher: A very British Revolution’, one of the interviewees says that some of the criticisms regarding the significant privatisation process the Prime Minister led were the encouragement of greed, loosening of regulation, corruption and even increased criminal activity. Funnily enough, the exact same thing happened when the most severe English privatisation process took place in the middle of the 16th century. I am talking about the dissolution of the monasteries when Henry VIII seized all the assets of the catholic church and sold all of its lands. Suddenly, there was a real opportunity for people to build massive real estate empires and as you can imagine, they were ready to do whatever it took to reach their goal. One of these people was William Sharington.

We do not know anything about his whereabouts in the first 30 years of his life. This probably tells us that he was not related to any great family, but things started to change for him when he began to serve Thomas Seymour, the brother of Jane Seymour, the third of Henry’s wives and the mother of the future King Edward VI. Being so close to such a powerful baron was a useful thing (at least until his downfall) and with the help of Seymour, William managed to purchase Lacock Abbey and its estate in 1540. It seems that this taste of newly privatised land launched something within Sharington because he almost immediately purchased another ex-monastic estate called Heytesbury. Now Sharington was unstoppable and by 1548, he owned no less than fourteen manor houses. 

But how could he afford all this land, you may ask? Well, this is probably the best time to mention another venture the duo Seymour/Sharington developed. Early in 1546, William was appointed to run the royal mint in Bristol. The job paid well, especially if you had plans to use your new power to fiddle the books and make more coins then you were supposed to. No doubt that the primary beneficiary was Thomas Seymour, but having your own money-making machine is always helpful when you need cash…

After the death of Henry VIII, Thomas Seymour and his brother Edward, the 1st Duke of Somerset, were trying to gain control over their sickly young cousin, the Boy-King Edward VI. Thomas was the head of the navy and his brother was the Lord Protector. When things got ugly, Thomas was seeking not just the help of the navy in an open rebellion, but also the support of pirates. Obviously, these things cost money and a lot of it and you probably can guess how he planned to finance his plans. In January 1549, Thomas tried to kidnap the Boy-King and rule the country using him. Unfortunately for Thomas, one of the king’s dogs heard him entering the inner yard in the palace and started barking. Thomas shot the dog, but the sound of that attracted the guards and he was caught. 

The downfall of Seymour ignited Sherrington to fall as well. Sherrington was arrested, the crown confiscated his real estate empire and the two were sentenced to death. Seymour was executed in March 1549. Sharington, however, pleaded for his life and since the real target was Seymour, he was not only pardoned, but he was also permitted to buy back his empire (for the small amount of £5M in today’s monetary value). If you think that being convicted for high treason would end Sharington’s career, think again. By now he was so rich and powerful that he could secure further employment even without Thomas Seymour’s help and a few months later he was sent on a diplomatic mission to France. 

Funnily enough, during all this time spent buying land and embezzling the crown, the one thing greedy William did not do was to have children with any of his three wives and so in 1553 when he died, all of his property moved to his brother.

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