Every year thousands of English tourists arrive in the city of Verona to see the house of Juliet. Incidentally, they could all just travel to Longleat in Wiltshire and visit the home of the real Romeo and Juliet. They were young and passionately in love, and they decided to get married on the same day they met, but they had to keep their relationship a secret because their families had been rivals for almost 20 years.
His name was Thomas Thynne, and he was the heir of Longleat. Her name was Maria Touchet, and she was the daughter of the Earl of Castlehaven. They met one night in the spring of 1594 when they were both 16 years old. Thomas was meeting some friends from school in an inn called “The Bell” in Beaconsfield. A few of them were from a family named Mervyn, which was the family of Maria’s mother.
It was love at first sight. The two youngsters spent the night drinking and socializing and at some point decided that the most sensible thing to do was to summon a priest and marry in one of the rooms of the inn (and later to spend their first night in that room).
In the morning the couple had to part and keep their new relationship a secret, because their families hated each other, and held a feud which had lasted over 20 years and included several street fights, legal challenges and even one fatal casualty. Strangely, the cause of this fight was related to an earlier marriage that took place in the previous generation, when Maria’s mother, Lucy, was supposed to have married into Thomas’s family, but the wedding never took place because of his family.
The young lovers managed to keep their secret for almost a year, but it was exposed in 1595. Marriage in the 16th century was not about love or affection. It was an extremely important deal between families, that included the transfer of land, titles and money. The family of the bride was supposed to offer a generous endowment to secure a good match, but in this case, since the couple was already married, they did not have to provide a thing. As you can imagine, her family was very happy with the arrangement (and some people even suggest that her mother had had a significant role in their meeting). His family, however, was furious. Thomas was the heir of the vast family estate, the prestigious stately home of Longleat, so they expected that his marriage would grant the family a considerable endowment.
His outraged father (also named Thomas of course) went to court and tried to annul the marriage. The case took four years to resolve and ended with him losing, and the young couple were now move to Longleat and live together as a husband and wife.
It was apparent that the love marriage made them both very affectionate towards one another. Maria was not behaving like a submissive wife, and the couple even mentioned their sexual pleasure in some letters. Sadly, the marriage was short. In 1611 Maria died while giving birth to their third child.
1595, the year when the secret came out, and his father started his legal battle, was also the year William Shakespeare is thought to have written his famous play about Romeo and Juliet, and as we well know, he never visited Verona.
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