Article by Steph Stohrer
And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places:
Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and
thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer
of paths to dwell in. – Isaiah, 58:12
Buried in her family’s vault at Saint Lawrence Church in Appleby Castle, Lady Anne Clifford’s tomb displays no image, but rather exhibits 24 shields intended to convey her lineage and the pride with which she felt for her family’s origins.
Clifford’s entire adult life was dedicated to reclaiming the lands and castles that were rightfully hers, having been passed on from generation to generation, dating back to the 14th century.
Lady Anne Clifford was born on January 30, 1590 to naval admiral George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland and his wife Margaret Russell. Both parents were active at the court of Elizabeth I, Margaret having been a maid to the Queen and the sister-in-law of Ambrose Dudley, the brother of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert; and George, a highly respected jouster and courtier as well.
George Clifford’s family estates in Northern England were quite great, and included the castles of Brough, Brougham, Appleby, Pendragon and Skipton. When George died in 1605, rather than leaving his properties to his own daughter Anne, he left them to his brother Francis and his heirs (namely his son Henry), which breached a centuries-old entail that should have secured the lands and castles to his own oldest heir, whether they be male or female. Since Anne’s two brothers both died in childhood, these castles should have, by law, been hers. She was instead given £15,000 as compensation.
As her guardian, Anne’s mother Margaret was her biggest champion and supporter, providing her with the necessary education as would suit her standing, and in 1606, initiating claims on her behalf to the titles and estates. Unfortunately, this amounted to nothing, as the courts refused her from the beginning. Margaret continued to contest the rulings as best she could until her death in 1616.
Anne began to research and compile evidence to be able to prove her position as rightful heir of her family’s lands, and ultimately assembled three volumes of material known as the “Great Books of Record”, that continue to be the main source of history of the Clifford family. In 1607, her research did prove Earl Francis’ case to be invalid and the Skipton estate was declared rightfully hers. However, Francis would remain as obstinate as ever, and would not give it up.
On February 25, 1609, Lady Anne married “notorious wastrel and spendthrift” Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset. As her husband, Sackville took charge of her lawsuits and tried persistently to get her to give up her rights to family lands in exchange for a cash payoff. He spent excessively on clothes, mistresses and gambling, and wanted the cash for himself and his own vain pleasures. In 1615 the Court of Common Pleas declared that Sackville and Anne could choose between some of the estates, but Anne was determined. She wanted them all. At this point, even King James sided with Sackville to get her to give up the fight, but Anne persisted nonetheless. Her husband had threatened to take their two daughters, Margaret & Isabella, away if she did not cease her cause, but to no avail. Anne Clifford would not rest until her lands were hers.
It was during this time that Lady Anne kept a diary to record the developments of the legal matters she endured. She also included her marital struggles in her notes, which helped to paint a clearer picture of the repeated infidelity and extravagant spending by her husband. Her own contemporaries blamed Anne’s unwavering and steadfast personality as a cause of her marital discord, but the match was not a happy one all the same. She often implied in her letters that Richard’s younger brother Edward Sackville had much influence over her husband and was responsible for many of his misdeeds.
Sackville died in 1624, as Edward succeeded to the Dorset title and took hold of the family estates. Richard had amassed sizeable debts as a result of his spending, adding to the plight of Anne and their children. She left the Sackville home of Knole with her two daughters in tow and went back to the court of King James I. Over the course of the next six years, Anne was very popular at court, as she continued in her efforts regarding her lands.
In 1630, Lady Anne married widower Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke. This ill-fated match was somewhat doomed from the start, as Herbert was quite literally the opposite of Anne in every way. Where she loved reading, Herbert hated books. Where she was a devout follower of the Church of England, Herbert was un-religious. She was a thoughtful, well-mannered individual while he was gauche and vulgar. It is thought that Anne simply wanted to remarry to protect herself from her brother-in-law Edward.
In 1643, after several decades of battling her uncle and cousin to secure her lands and castles, Lady Anne’s efforts would finally be coming to a close. Her uncle had been dead for nearly two years, and her cousin Henry died childless. However, Anne had to act cautiously so that she did not misuse this opportunity. A civil war was raging in England, and although her husband was a Parliamentarian, she was of the unpopular Royalist mentality. If she were to leave and head north to her castles, she had no protection against her rivals without her husband’s watchful eye. Her daughters were also of the marrying age and she had to make sure that their futures were taken care of prior to taking her journey north to settle the affairs that had been in limbo for so many years. By this point, each of her castles were in complete states of disrepair and had been neglected for years. She was determined to get to each one and rebuild and restore so that they could not only become habitable again, but also stand with the beauty and splendor they once had. In a 1646 letter to her cousin John Lowther, Anne writes:
We are in a hope of peace, and then the Scotch will march home into
their own country, and the unruly English will also be gone.
It was during this year that Anne commissioned a huge portrait of her family from a painter in London. This famous painting is known as “The Great Picture” and is now owned by Abbott Hall Art Gallery in Kendal. The portrait shows a teenaged Anne, surrounded by books on the left, an elderly Anne (probably in her 50s) on the right, and the middle picture illustrating Anne, her parents, and her two young brothers who died in childhood.
Six years after the death of her husband, Lady Anne was finally ready to head north and begin work on her deeply cherished family homes. She made her way from London to Baynard in July of 1649, and spent the rest of that summer traveling to and from each of her beloved castles. By 1651, her she was ready to begin restorations, with the first step aiming to restore the great tower at Appleby. She laid the first stone with her own hands on February 21 of that year.
As a gesture to show in what high regard he held her, and to thank her for the service of her late husband, Oliver Cromwell offered to help Lady Anne with some of her tenants with whom she was having a dispute. She declined his offer and was told that he objected to her rebuilding of the castles. Anne’s response to this was to say “Let him destroy them if he will, but he shall surely find that as often as he destroys them, I will rebuild them while he leaves me a shilling in my pocket!” Fortunately, Cromwell had great respect for the only woman to ever stand up to him, stating “Let her build what she will, she shall not be hindered by me.”
In the latter part of her life, Lady Anne went on to not only rebuild all of her houses, but also build almshouses for poor widows in Appleby and restore many churches in the north. As a passionate supporter of the Church of England, Anne appointed and paid chaplains for each residence and attended church services regularly. When unable to attend, she had her personal chaplains traveling in her progress say the services in her own rooms. She had the Bible read to her daily, and she gave daily alms to the poor. Her diaries reflected her devotion as much of her entries recited scripture.
In 1656, she erected a monument called “Countess Pillar” in her mother’s memory. This memorial marks the spot where Countess Margaret and Lady Anne last parted ways where Brougham Castle drive meets the main road.
Lady Anne’s “ruling passion was her attachment to her family, and to the estates and titles which had belonged to it”. She spent the last three decades of her life dedicated to restoring her family homes and bringing pride back to the castles that were so neglected and even destroyed by years of war. She passed away on March 22, 1676 at age 86 in Brougham Castle, in the same room in which her father was born.
In a befitting final sermon, Bishop Rainbow preached to the congregation “Every wise woman buildeth her house”…and that she did.
Thorburn, Gordon. Lady Anne Clifford 1590-1676.
Williamson, Dr. George C. Lady Anne Clifford Countess of Dorset, Pembroke & Montgomery 1590-1676, Her Life, Letters & Work. Pages 58, 60, 192, 198, 303.
FREE COPY of Lady Anne Clifford’s Diary: https://archive.org/details/cu31924027999014/mode/2up