Origin of the Trussells
Probably the single estate with the strongest association with the Trussells is Billesley, an estate located about a kilometer west of Stratford-upon-Avon on Roman Road. According to some accounts, William Trussell, a Norman, came to control the estate through a direct grant from William I. Another account, reports that a Norman named Hugh de Grantmesnil was granted the estate by William and that Osbert Trussell retained control of the manor in 1158, 92 years later, through his relationship with the Earl of Warwick. All sources I’ve found seem to agree that the Trussells maintained more or less continuous control for several centuries. Once the Trussells retained control, they re-christened the estate and associated village "Billesley Trussell".
Nearby Stratford-upon-Avon was William Shakepeare’s Birthplace and rumor has it that Shakespeare often visited Billesley to use the library and that he wrote, “As You Like It”, at Billesley Hall. It is certain that his grand-daughter, Elizabeth Nash, married her second husband there. Today Billesley is owned by Queens Moat Houses and it is a Luxury Country House Hotel, called, “Billesley Manor” with forty-two rooms available to the public.
According to materials distributed by the Hotel, the Trussells, “... came of yeoman stock. Born fighters, they gained -- and kept -- land with the help of a sinewy sword-arm and an unswerving belief that might is right.”
When Henry III became of age, he continued to struggle with the Barons, Trussells included. Simon de Montfort, Earl of Lancaster and “the father of parliamentary democracy”, lead a rebellion, which the Trussells supported. Montfort and the barons argued that the King should use England’s own Barons as his advisers instead of choosing his own friends. In 1264, Montfort won the battle of Lewes, but a year later, in 1265, he was defeated, with William Trussell at his side, at the Battle of Evesham. It was the King’s son Edward who won that battle and now Edward rose to the throne and Billesley was again forfeighted.
Soon enough, though, we find Billesley in the hands of another William Trussell, another enemy of the monarchy. Eventually Edward I, the victor at Evesham victory, and was succeeded by Edward II. King Edward II was one of the dark chapters in English history. His father, Edward I, had finally subdued Wales and had begun an effort to subdue the Scots as well. Edward II, on the other hand, was ineffective and corrupt. By 1314 he had lost the Scots and in 1327 he was eventually deposed, bundled away into a dungeon in Gloucestershire and killed, one of England’s less impressive monarchs. One of Edward II’s first moves was to appoint Piers Gavston, a boyhood homosexual friend to the court, as his closest advisor. Gavston had been expelled from the Royal Court by Edward I. In the year 1312, Trussell, working with Guy Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick, seized Gavston at Doddington Castle in Oxfordshire and carried him off to be beheaded.
Later on, Hugh Despenser became the dominant figure at the king’s court. Despenser was ambitious and greedy. A coalition of Marcher Lords determined to stop Despenser’s rise was formed, led by the Earle of Hereford and supported by Thomas of Lancaster, among others. In 1319 later Trussell and his sons took up arms against Despenser and in support of Lancaster and Hereford. Numerous battles took place, but the Lancasterian forces were decisively defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 and Lancaster was executed. Following the defeat Trussell made himself scarce, first hiding out at Somerset with like-minded friends and eventually visiting relatives in France. This time he didn’t hide long and, by 1326, he was back in England at Kenilworth Castle, again serving the Earl of Lancaster with the support of Isabella and Mortimer, presiding at the trial of Hugh Despenser, the father of his old enemy, whom he sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out with great brutality and the elder Despenser’s head was placed on London Bridge amidst general rejoicing. The Earl of Lancaster and his supporters, especially Trussell, acquired many lands that belonged to the crown at the time.
In 1327, as Sir William Trussell, he headed the delegation of Parliament that informed King Edward II that his subjects were renouncing homage. Apparently Trussell still managed to curry the favor of Edward’s son, Edward III as this King appointed Sir William as his ambassador to Aragon, Portugal, and Majorca and he served this Edward faithfully. Trussell was still residing at Billesley when he passed away in 1345. Though he did live at Billesley all his life apparently he didn’t own it. It was instead owned by one of his relatives, another Sir William Trussell who, also a supporter of the Lancasters, served with Edward III’s son, the Black Prince in his efforts to defeat the French at Gascony, particularly the unexpected victory at Poitiers in 1356.It is well known that the Prince granted lands, offices and annuities to those who helped him win that victory.
There were also Trussells who were members of the Royal Admiralty and a certain John Trussell wrote a history of England. At one time, the Trussells had manors not only at Billesley, but also at Walton, Cubbington, Marston-Trussell, Whitchurch, Hales, and Acton-Trussell. The first four were all near Stratford-up-Avon and the latter three are north and east of Birmingham. There is also a fairly common chart by the Harlean Society that goes back to the time of the 1300’s.
The Trussells chose the wrong side at the very end of the War of the Roses where Henry VII (Henry Tudor) defeated the Yorks at Bosworth Field in 1485. This time they had challenged the wrong monarchy and, as a result, the family did not fare quite so well in Tudor England. By 1588, Trussell influence had deteriorated to the point where Sir Thomas Trussell, the proprietor of the Billesley Estate was arrested, convicted of Highway Robbery, and sentenced to death .. and his property confiscated by the Crown.
In 1592 Billesley was purchased by Sir Robert Lee, a Trussell relative who later became Mayor of London. Sir Robert is said to have substantially rehabilitated the estate for the use of a beautiful mistress he kept there. Ironically, Thomas’ first cousin once-removed was a “Henery Trussell” who married Sara Kettlewood in London in the year 1572, sixteen years before the disaster at Billesley. Some have speculated that it was this “Henery” or his son, who moved to Liverpool to become a merchant, who bore a son who became a captain of the Royal Navy and whose grandson became the first Trussell to settle in the New England Colonies.
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