It was on 16 February 1538 that Lewes Priory was formally granted to Thomas Cromwell, Keeper of the Privy Seal. Surviving documents indicate that he immediately set about converting part of the Prior’s lodgings complex as a home for his son Gregory. In April 1538 Gregory’s wife Elizabeth, who was the sister of Jane Seymour, is recorded as being in occupation of the house which later became known as Lord’s Place.
After the appointment of his father as constable of Leeds castle and the completion of certain repairs to the castle, Gregory moved there in 1539.
When Thomas Cromwell was executed in July 1540, Henry VIII granted the Priory lands to his divorced wife Anne of Cleves. Twenty acres of the original 39 acres of the old precinct including the Lord’s Place was granted under a 21 year lease to Nicholas Jenney. Jenney died in 1549 and the lease passed to William Newton who used stone from the priory to build Southover Grange.
On Anne of Cleves’ death in 1557, the house passed to Sir Richard Sackville, a cousin of Anne Boleyn. Nicknamed 'Fillsack', Sir Richard was out of favour during the reign of Mary I but flourished when Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558. On his death in 1566, Lord's Place passed to his son Thomas Sackville.
Thomas Sackville, born at Buckurst in East Sussex, was a poet & politician and a prominent courtier during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. He was knighted and made Lord Buckhurst in 1567, was Lord Lieutenant of Sussex in 1569 and Lord High Treasurer from 1599. He was created 1st Earl of Dorset in 1604. He not only owned Lord’s Place but also Buckhurst Manor (his main residence), Knole House, Groombridge Place and Michelham Priory.
It has been proposed by Paul Everson that it was Thomas Sackville who developed Lord’s Place and laid out an exceptionally elaborate formal garden.
The house, Paul Everson believes, was L-shaped incorporating the parts of the former Prior’s lodging and guest accommodation with a street entrance at the original Great Gate of the Priory. The garden, he says, was likely made up of themed compartments with the Mount, the Dripping Pan and the Convent Garden in the northeast and the Pigeon House Garden and Pond Garden in the southwest. It is possible that the work was undertaken in anticipation of a visit by Elizabeth I in 1577 – a visit which was cancelled due to threat of plague.
Thomas Sackville died in 1608. His eldest son Robert, 2nd Earl of Dorset, inherited the property but survived his father by only one year. It then passed to Robert’s son Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset, who has been described as "one of the seventeenth century’s most accomplished gamblers and wastrels". It seems his main residence was Knole House. Richard had no male heir so Lord’s Place passed in 1624 via his daughter Margaret to her husband John Tufton, 2nd Earl of Thanet (see separate article by Helen Poole).
By 1662 the property was described as “an ruinous and useless house for the most part fallen downe and lying waste”. John’s three oldest sons died without issue and the fourth, Thomas Tufton, became 6th Earl of Thanet. It was he who sold the priory site in 1668 to one Nathaniel Trayton. For 130 years the greatest house in Lewes, Lord’s Place was quarried for its building materials. Over the following 20 years it would have gradually disappeared as a feature in the priory precinct.
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