HISTORY OF THE FOUNDATION OF THE GODOLPHIN SCHOOL
CHARLES and Elizabeth Godolphin must be regarded as jointly concerned in founding the Godolphin School, though it was Elizabeth who, dying six years after her husband, set forth the bequest in her will, which was signed by her on 24th June 1726.
The husband and wife were second cousins once removed, Elizabeth being the daughter of Francis Godolphin of Coulston, Wilts. Charles was one of sixteen children, and two at least of his brothers were notable: Sidney, the first Earl of Godolphin and Lord High Treasurer in the reign of Anne; and Henry, Dean of St. Paul’s and Provost of Eton, who erected the statue of Henry VI in School yard. Sidney’s wife was, in some respects, the most notable person who bore the name Godolphin, for she was Margaret Blagge before she became Mrs. Sidney Godolphin, and her friend, John Evelyn, describing his unworthiness to record her life, says: “It would become a steadier hand and the perm of an Angell’s wing to describe the life of a Saint”, a saint who, almost a child, was Maid of Honour in the Court of Charles II; a saint “who pass’d thro’ all those turbulent waters without so much as the least staine or tincture in her Christall; with her Piety grew up her Witt, which was soe sparkling, accompained by a Judgment and Eloquence soe exterordinary, a Beauty and Ayre soe charming and lovely, in a word, an Address soe universally takeing, that after few years the Court never saw or had seen such a Constellation of perfections amongst all their splendid Circles.”
She died when she was only twenty-six, after a few years of the happiest married life, and leaving behind a little baby boy, Francis. Her memory is preserved by John Evelyn, and the light shines on her face and through the rich colours of her dress in the window in Truro Cathedral. Her husband survived her for thirty-four years and a brilliant career, but never married again.
Elizabeth was eleven years younger than Margaret, who died nine years before her brother-in-law married Elizabeth. We have no ground for thinking that they ever met, though very likely they were both familiar at different times with the old Godolphin family home, which was situated “Godolphin Hill.” Richard Carew (1602) says: “This hill hath for diverse descents supplyed those bountifull mindes with large meanes accruing from their Tynne-works.” This great old Manor House, near Helston, in Cornwall, is still very beautiful, with its double court; its ruins of a chapel, and its great panelled rooms, some of them now used as a farm-house.
There were many other distinguished members of Godolphin family. William Godolphin was knighted by Henry VIII for his services, and was made by him Warden and Chief Steward of the Stannaries. He also “demeaned himself very valiently beyond the seas, as appeared by the scars he brought home, no less to the beautifying fame than the disfiguring of his face.” His nephew was knighted by Queen Elizabeth and was Governor of the Scilly Islands. Another raised a troop of horse for King Charles I and was killed in a skirmish at Chagford. Another was a distinguished diplomatist in the latter part seventeenth century, and many members of the family held important positions in the county of Cornwall. Davis Gilbert in his Parochial History of Cornwall, and quoting from Hals, tells that the Godolphin estates were held on a curious tenure from the Manor of Lamburne Perra which came to the St. Aubyns of Clowance ” . . . once a year for ever the Reeve of the said Manor should come to Godolphin and there boldly enter the hall, jump upon the table-board, and there stamp or bounce with his club, to claim and give notice to the people of his approach, and then and there make proclamation aloud three times, `Oyes ! oyes ! oyes ! I am the Reeve of the Manor Lamburne in Perans and come here to demand the old rent, duties and customs due to the Lord of the said Manor from the lands of Godolphin.’ Upon which notice there is forthwith to be brought him 2s. 8d. rent, a large quart of strong beer, a. loaf of wheaten bread, worth sixpence, and a cheese of the like value; which the Reeve having received, he shall drink of the beer, taste the bread and cheese in the place, and then depart, carrying with him the rent and remainder of these viands to the lords of the manor aforesaid, to whom they are still duly paid.”
Hals is notoriously unreliable, and tradition gives another origin for the rent. It is said that a S.Aubyn and a Godolphin, inveterate gamblers, had a snail race on a table, the stakes being their respective estates. Godolphin’s snail was much behind the other, and, to quicken its movements, he pricked it with a pin. The snail at once withdrew into its shell and refused to budge an inch. So S.Aubyn’s snail won, but he would not exact the penalty. There is an ancient saying in Cornwall that “a Godolphin was never known to want wit, a Trelawney courage, or a Glanville loyalty.”
The school has had proof of the loyalty of the Glanvilles of Cornwall, but the Godolphin motto also lays claim to that great virtue. Let us hope that Godolphin wit will always go with it, and that the mean and foolish action of pricking a snail to make it go quicker was an exceptional instance of bad manners and weak wit !
Almost all we know about Charles and Elizabeth Godolphin is set forth on the fine mural tablet in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey and in her will.