The Wye Valley and the Vale of Usk have long been places of significance in English and Welsh history as well as the beautiful setting in which various ancestral arms of the Gwillim dynasty held sway as lords and minor kings in this often troubled land on the border between England and Wales.
After 1066, ancestors of the Gwillims married into several illustrious families of Norman origin and were granted lands as manorial lords and freeholders. As a result, the Gwillim line is able to be linked back to the Conqueror via his daughter Gundreda.
Gwillim as a surname was first taken in the 15th century. The Gwillims descend from the same line as the Vaughan family of Courtfield, which is near to Whitchurch and the Old Court. Courtfield was close to the important fortress and river crossing at Goodrich, which, with the older line of Offa’s Dyke, marked the frequently disputed border with Wales.
Also nearby, the magnificent Cistercian Abbey at Tintern was founded in the 12th century. The Forest of Dean was a major source of ships’ timber and played an important role in the early industrialisation of Britain. All of these important places – latterly including the Old Court itself, have since Elizabeth’s time, become visitor attractions. This followed the fashionable growth of touring and boat trips up the Wye, as an alternative to the `Grand European Tour’ during periods of war with the French.
Gwillims first came to Whitchurch Court in the late 16th century through the marriage of Thomas Gwillim to Barbara Powell. Colonel Thomas Gwillim, the sixth in line, who had married his cousin Elizabeth Spinckes at Whitchurch in 1750, fought with General Wolfe at the battle of Quebec in 1759. He died in Germany in February 1762 not knowing his wife was carrying a daughter after 12 years of childless marriage.
Elizabeth was therefore born in September 1762 at Aldwinkle in Northamptonshire, as her widowed mother returned to her mother’s home, where she died shortly after giving birth.