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Photo Article from the Welsh Hovel: the 1st Earl of Abingdon, a mystery solved, it really is him! He is my 10 Great Grandpa!

Tom Winnifrith
Monday 20 November 2023

The portrait below was one my father owned. On his demise I picked it up as nobody else wanted it. The writing in the top left-hand corner says that it is James Bertie, the 1st Earl of Abingdon, a man who lived from 1653-99 and was a fairly important figure in 17th century politics. But was this a genuine portrait and how did it come into our possession?

I had it restored by my pal Art in Chester and it looks good as you can see below. Sadly, we were wholly unable to find the artist but Art thought it was of the era so might be a geuine live sitting. I put it on the wall and forgot about it. The Mrs. made a few disparaging comments about how I had brought to the house another portrait of a dead white male.

Yesterday I was, to get into the good books of the Mrs., sorting out some books and clearing space. One damaged tome from 1862 caught my eye: a list of Britain and Ireland’s landed gentry. The only part of my family listed there are on my father’s mother’s side. Her father’s family, the Cochrane’s are there as, would be the Styles also from Donegal with whom there was a good bit of intermarriage. This broken book ends at R so I could not find much about the Styles family but they are referenced in the Cochrane section.

Granny’s mothers family, the Ilbert’s are rather posher. One day, I shall visit the old family pile at Bowringsleigh in Devon. My knowledge of the Ilbert line went back only as far as my grandmother’s grandfather, Sir Courtenay Ilbert of Ilbert Bill fame and then to his four daughters. But the lineage goes back far further in time so my eyes lit up when I saw William Ilbert, a major of the Devon militia commanded by Sir Francis Drake and then there was the bingo moment.

William’s grandson, also a William, married the 6th daughter of Sir William Courtenay of Powderham Castle. Sir William Courtenay’s wife was…..the Lady Anne Bertie, the daughter of James, the 1st Earl of Abingdon. And that explains how the portrait came into the Ilbert family some time around 1734, when William married Bridget, or shortly afterwards.

At least part of the mystery is solved. As to the artist, I suppose the painting and its creator might be mentioned in an Ilbert will somewhere along the way.  One day, when I retire for a life writing up family history and goat farming I may look into that.


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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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