Daughter of William Whitmore and Anna Whitmore
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About Margaret Whitmore
The Lady St Johns of Lydiard - Margaret Whitmore
Margaret Whitmore was one of the first Eastenders, long before Barbara Windsor wiggled and whinnied her way across our TV screens.
Born in around 1576, Margaret was the daughter of Alderman William Whitmore, a haberdasher with business premises at 8 Lombard Street, traditionally the home of goldsmiths, moneylenders and merchants. Her mother was Anne, the daughter of Alderman William Bond, another rich merchant.
William was tenant of a manor house called Balmes, built by two Spanish merchant brothers in 1540 on what is now the site of the De Beauvoir Town estate in Hackney. Whitmore bought the Apley estate in Shropshire in 1582 when Margaret was about six years old.
The family definitely had its collective finger on the pulse of commercial enterprise and civic life in the City. Margaret’s elder sister Elizabeth married Sir William Craven, Lord Mayor of London in 1610-11 and said to be the inspiration for the character Dick Whittington.
Margaret’s brother George, who later distinguished himself supporting the Royalist cause, was Lord Mayor of London in 1631.
Margaret’s first husband was Sir Richard Grobham whom she married in 1604. He died in 1629 and Margaret’s effigy appears alongside his on the tomb in St Giles Church, Great Wishford, Wiltshire.
In October 1630 Margaret married the widowed Sir John St. John. His first wife, Anne Leighton, had died shortly after the birth of her 13th child, but the baby had survived and young Henry was about two years old when Margaret married his father.
Three of Sir John’s children had already died – Nicholas and Elizabeth within days of each other in April 1629, and Thomas who had died in July 1630.
The younger children Barbara, Lucy, Walter, Francis and Henry divided their time between the manor house at Battersea and the Lydiard estate.
Margaret, who had no children of her own, was 54 years old when she took on the young St John brood. Although she obviously didn’t have the day to day hands on care of the children, one assumes she did play some role in the nurturing of the youngsters.
Well past child bearing age and some ten years older than her husband, Margaret was no oil painting - as the oil painting in the Dining Room at Lydiard House reveals. Despite her fashionable clothes and up to the minute coiffure, Margaret doesn’t hold a candle to her predecessor, the beautiful Anne.
But unlike his disreputable descendents Sir John obviously knew a good woman when he saw one. When it came to leaving a lasting memorial, Margaret’s place on his right hand side was assured.
The magnificent marble memorial was commissioned, executed and delivered fourteen years before Sir John’s death and three years before that of his wife Margaret.
If any further evidence was needed as proof that Margaret was a 17th century fashionista look no further than the effigy on the tomb.
Margaret wears her hair fashionably curled at the sides. Her dress features a bodice with scalloped tabs tied with a ribbon sash, a high neck and standing collar with ballooned and paned sleeves with double cuffs. But Margaret was more than just a fashion plate. In her left hand she holds a book, the pages held open by her index finger, indicating scholarly learning and religious devotion.
The inscription Sir John dictated for the memorial reads: Margaret was the daughter of William Whitmore, Knight of Apley in the county of Shropshire; she is living, in her fifty eighth year, notable for the fame of her virtue and given to good works; she is to be added to the tomb of this family when her time comes unless she one day decides otherwise.
Margaret died in 1637, escaping the heartache of the Civil War in which her husband lost three sons. Sir John died at his Battersea home in 1648 where his ostentatious funeral got his executors into hot water. His body was returned to his Wiltshire estate and he was buried alongside his two wives in the St John vault in St Mary’s Church.