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The Destruction, Corruption and Intrigues of Colonel Villiers

 Tinmouth Castle and Light House ⁠— Francis Place (1647-1728)

Colonel Henry Villiers (1677-1707) is a name that is infamous for his role as Governor of Tynemouth Castle. Both Henry and his father Sir Edward Villiers (1620-1689) were responsible for most of the destruction of the Priory in order to build the lighthouse and nearby living quarters.

In undertaking this enterprise, Edward also lied to the King and everyone else, by claiming he built the expansive dwellings, including a brewhouse, and the lighthouse at his own expense and that this justified periodically increasing the tolls for passing ships. When in fact he just tore down the walls and appropriated the stone and lead.

Edward Villiers was likely doing a fair bit business with “Bribemaster General” Lord Clifford of the Cabal (1630-1673), who established Clifford’s Fort during the Anglo-Dutch Wars. As Catholics, they would have hated the Dutch and Lord Clifford was in the pay of the French when negotiating the peace treaty with Holland. In addition, the leader of the Cabal was the Duke of Buckingham, George Villiers, practically a brother of King Charles II and quite possibly related to Edward through this august clan.

Lighthouses are great and noble public works, but owning the lighthouse and thus the right to tax every passing ship was also a lucrative privilege. Presumably the tolls were extracted at Shields and fittingly, Henry’s extra source of income happened to be smuggling, for which he was convicted twice. He was also tangled up in transporting French agents to Scotland with the trader and naval officer Thomas Gordon (1658-1741) who operated out of Leith before he defected to command the Russian fleet. As well as this, Henry Villiers was involved in smuggling swords to Jacobite rebels. These were made in Shotley Bridge by German defectors who had settled there. He is buried in the Priory.…/Thomas_Clifford,_1st_Baron……/henry-villiers-colonel…/…/0078172X.2020.1802548…

Archaeologia Aeliana Vol 20, Society of Antiquaries Newcastle Upon Tyne (1889)

Image: “Tinmouth Castle & Light house” – Francis Place (1647-1728). Held by the British Museum


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