KnoleKnole House, Sevenoaks, Kent.



There is some debate over the exact year that Elizabeth I handed Bexhill Manor over to Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, as a reward for his loyal service and long standing friendship.

In her first parliament of 1558, the young queen passed the Act of Supremacy, securing her position as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, an important first step in a time when many felt that a women could not rule the church.

Part of the wider Elizabethan Religious Settlement, the act allowed Queen Elizabeth to acquire ecclesiastical property when the Bishop’s seat within a diocese fell vacant.

Never one to shy away from extracting wealth from the church to pay for secular matters, Elizabeth would often delay an appointment of a new Bishop in order to enact this power.

It was one such vacant bishopric that allowed Elizabeth to lay claim to 8 of the 13 manors held by the Diocese of Chichester. One of these manors was at Bexhill, which she passed to Thomas Sackville a few years later.

Records held by diocese mark the bishopric vacancy as 1582 – 1586, making 1590 the most likely candidate for the accession of the manor to the Sackville estate.

The Sackvilles’ ancestral home was seated at Buckhurst in Withyham, but the family moved to the more modern Knole House, Sevenoaks in 1603. The manor at Bexhill would be linked to these two great estates for the next 300 years, and became part of an inheritance that at its height numbered 18 manors.

With the grandeur of Knole and Buckhurst taking centre stage, it is of no surprise that Thomas Sackville and his direct descendants spent little time at Bexhill Manor. That is not to say that the manor house was neglected. Continued expansion at the residence through the Elizabethan and Stuart period remained evident in the building itself.





The administration of the Manor of Bexhill followed the pattern that existed from Saxon times. The Court Leet (pertaining to the local tenancies and lease of farm land) and the Court Baron of the Manor (detailing the matters of common law that arose in the district) were seated, as was customary, at the manor house.

The manor would become home to successive bailiffs and stewards reporting directly to the Sackville family. It was during this period that the manor house became known as Court Lodge, and the detailed records of the Court Leet and Court Baron survive from this time and are preserved in the East Sussex County Archives.

Court Lodge would remain an important administrator for the wider community until the incorporation of Bexhill in 1902. The Law Property Act of 1922 abolished the remaining copyhold tenancies in the land, finally stripping away the need for the Court Leet.

Although agriculture and farming remained the backbone of the Manor of Bexhill, Wild-fowling became popular among the gentry in the 18th Century and the marshes below Court Lodge (that would later become the resort town of Bexhill-on-Sea) were turned to for the pursuit of the sport. For a time the manor house became a well used shooting Lodge for the Dukes of Dorset and their entourage.

The Sackville estates passed down though hereditary title to 6 consecutive Earls and 4 consecutive Dukes of Dorset until the death of George John Frederick Sackville in 1815 (see Dorset lineage above).

With no wife or direct descendants, control of the sackville estates returned to his mother, Arabella, Duchess of Dorset, making her a very wealthy heiress. The Duke of Dorset title passed to a nephew, Charles Sackville Germain, but again, with no children at the time of his death, the hereditary title died with him.

Arabella’s death in 1825 saw the Sackville Estate being split between George John Frederick’s surviving sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. Knole and Bexhill Manor were passed to Arabella’s oldest daughter Mary, and the Buckhurst estate and newly created title of Baroness of Buckhurst went to her youngest daughter Elizabeth.

Baroness Elizabeth had married George West, the 5th Earl De La Warr in 1813. The great eminence and large estate associated with the Sackville family saw the 5th Earl De La Warr take the family name, becoming George Sackville-West. Elizabeth and George would go on to have a total of 9 children.

When Elizabeth’s sister died in 1864, Bexhill Manor and Knole House were passed over to the Baroness of Buckhurst and she became the sole beneficiary of the entire Sackville Estate.

An ensuing and somewhat acrimonious court action was brought by one of her children, Mortimer, over a disputed hereditary title following the death of his elder brother.

The dispute was settled, Mortimer given the title of 1st Baron of Sackville, but Buckhurst and Knole would forever more be separated.

maryelizMary, Elizabeth and George Sackville c.1796underline5
Knole (and with it Bexhill Manor) would eventually be passed down to Elizabeth and George’s third son Reginald Sackville, who would in turn become the 7th Earl De La Warr.

While this marked the beginning of a breakup of the Sackville estates, it also inadvertently paved the way for the expansion and development of Bexhill-on-Sea and the continued association with the Earls De La Warr.