The Trevelyans and Nettlecombe Court

Nettlecombe Court, 18th-century South front

The Trevelyans and Nettlecombe Court

The Trevelyans came from Cornwall, the name derives from the Cornish for mill town, where they had several modest properties. However in the reign of Henry VI a John Trevelyan went to court and entered the king’s service. He supported the duke of Suffolk, who was murdered in 1450, and had the dubious honour of appearing in at least three political poems, sometimes by name and once as the Cornish chough. He was accused like others of misleading the king -- ‘Tent to the tale of Trevilian and fynde by his falsed what worship he wan’ -- and was petitioned against in Parliament as unfit to serve the king.

His greatest success turned out to be his marriage at Christmas 1452 to Elizabeth Whalesborough, a lady not only well connected at court, but granddaughter of Joan Ralegh heiress to that family's Somerset estate based in Nettlecombe. The death of her brother ensured that on her father’s death in 1481 the estates of the Whalesborough and Ralegh families in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset were added to the Trevelyans’s Cornish estates and those in Sussex and Surrey.

For a while the family maintained the connections with the court and public life but John seems to have been reluctant for his sons to pursue a court career. The second son Thomas complained to his elder brother that he was unable to go to court because his father would not give a penny towards his costs and begged a loan from his brother. Another son Richard came before Henry VII at Bristol. Hearing his name the king asked what relation he was to Trevelyan that was King Harry’s, meaning Henry VI. Their brother John may have been a king’s squire at this period and it was probably to him that this fatherly advice was addressed ‘play the Child your name and worship shall be lost’.

The eldest son Sir John eventually settled in Nettlecombe although it was only one of the family homes at this time; Whalesborough in Cornwall and Yarnscombe in Devon were also used, in fact for several years after 1531 Nettlecombe was let. However, by the end of the 16th century Nettlecombe court, a chance acquisition through a mid 15th-century marriage had been remodelled as a fine Elizabethan house and was the family’s principle residence, which it remained until the 20th century.

To find out more about the Trevelyans and Nettlecombe see their history in volume five of the Victoria County History of Somerset; available at all good libraries or for purchase from the publishers.