John Spencer (died 1522)

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Sir John Spencer (1455 – 14 April 1522)[1] was an English landowner, entrepreneur and ancestor of the Spencer family.

In 1469, John Spencer's uncle – another John Spencer – had become feoffee (feudal lord) of Wormleighton in Warwickshire and a tenant at Althorp in Northamptonshire in 1486. The Spencers’ administration of their Northamptonshire and Warwickshire estates was admired and often emulated by gentlemen all over England. Sheep from their pastures were purchased for breeding and it is probable that the family’s success as farmers was rarely equalled in the century.[2]

Althorp, the family seat of the Spencer family for 500 years

John Spencer first made a living by trading in livestock and other commodities and eventually saved enough money to purchase both the Wormleighton and Althorp lands. Wormleighton was bought in 1506, the manor house was completed in 1512. In 1508, John Spencer also purchased the estate of Althorp with its moated house and several hundred acres of farmland.[3] He had grazed sheep here from the 1480s. Impressed by the quality of the land, he eventually bought it and rebuilt the house in 1508.[4] At that time, his estate and mansion in Warwickshire were considerably larger, the house in Wormleighton was four times the size of Althorp.[4] In 1511 he made further purchases to acquire much of the surrounding countryside, including the villages of Little Brington and Great Brington as well their parish church of St Mary the Virgin, from Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset.[3] By putting down roots at Althorp, Sir John provided what was to become a home for the next 19 generations.[4]

Sir John Spencer and Isabella Graunt's tomb at Great Brington.[4]

Between 1513 and 1515, Sir John Spencer devoted much funds and planning to the parish church for Althorp, St Mary the Virgin in Great Brington. In 1513, he appointed Thomas Heritage to be rector of the church, who had previously been chaplain to King Henry VII and surveyor of the monarch's works at Westminster Abbey. It is altogether probable that Heritage designed and superintended the execution of Spencer's idea for a family chapel at the parish church.[3] His will, dated the 12th day of April 1522, just two days before Sir John death, states that he virtually rebuilt the whole church. His bequests included "oon hool syte of vestments and a chales", "the making of the chauncell roffe with the ledde, wall and wyndowes, and my armes to be sett in the same wyndowes" as well as his tomb, shared with his lady Isabella Graunt. For this tomb, to be placed in the easternmost bay of the family chapel, nearest to the altar, he left the sum of 20 pounds.[3]

In 1519 John Spencer was knighted by King Henry VIII, died three years later and was buried in the new family chapel at Great Brington.[3] His younger son and successor Sir William Spencer later bequeathed the church's east window of stained glass which depicted St. John the Baptist and the Spencer coat of arms, now in a south window of the chancel, in memory of his father.[3]


Sir John Spencer married Isabella Graunt, daughter of Sir Walter Graunt, of Snitterfield, and had issue. Upon his death in 1522, his estates at Wormleighton and Althorp passed to his younger son Sir William, who died ten years later. Spencer is a direct male-line ancestor of Prime Minister Sir Winston Spencer Churchill and Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.


  1. ^ While there is common agreement that Sir John Spencer died in 1522, his birthdate is not as certain. It is listed as 1455 (see [1]), 1437 (see [2]), or 1447 (see Spencer family).
  2. ^ Sir John Spencer, History of Parliament Online [3] (access date 20 July 2013)
  3. ^ a b c d e f H. Gawthorne/S. Mattingly/G. W. Shaeffer/M. Avery/B. Thomas/R. Barnard/M. Young, Revd. N.V. Knibbs/R. Horne: "The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Great Brington. 800 Years of English History", published as "Brington Church: A Popular History" in 1989 and printed by Peerless Press.
  4. ^ a b c d Sir John Spencer 1455–1522 [4] (access date 20 July 2013)