The 2017 festival featured the following speakers:

William Herbert, the 18th Earl of Pembroke

Festival Patron

The first Wilton History Festival was enthusiastically supported by William Herbert, the 18th Earl of Pembroke. Lord Pembroke opened the festival’s Sunday Symposium, and offered the following statement regarding his patronage of the event:

‘I have always felt disheartened that despite the historical significance of Wilton, it is often overshadowed by its much older neighbour Stonehenge, and its younger one Salisbury Cathedral.

I’m so thrilled that the Wilton History Festival will once again give the ancient capital of Wessex the opportunity to divulge some of its astonishing 1,400 year history.

From Kingsbury, the Royal palace of King Alfred, to the founding of Wilton Abbey, once the wealthiest in Britain, and even the world famous Wilton Carpet factory, Wilton is steeped in political, social, and religious history. This is our chance to shine a spotlight on it and share these magnificent stories with you.

It is my privilege to support the Wilton History Festival in its inaugural year.’

Rebecca Lyons

University of Bristol

Rebecca is the Wilton History Festival’s Director. She is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Bristol, where she completed a PhD in 2017 on women’s ownership and readership of Arthurian literature in late medieval and early modern England. She moved to Wilton in 2015 and was inspired by its rich history (especially the feisty St. Edith of Wilton!) to organise the Wilton History Festival. Rebecca is the Associate Series Editor for a series on book and publishing cultures with Cambridge University Press, and until recently was a Research Associate on The Academic Book of the Future project at University College London.

Introduction: Wilton and the Festival
In her talk, Rebecca provides a brief introduction to Wilton’s rich history and points to some of its exciting future directions. She explained the context and background of the Wilton History Festival – why and how it came about, what it is hoping to achieve, and why it is so important to celebrate this wonderful town.

Dr John Chandler

Victoria County History, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire

John Chandler BA PhD FSA is consultant editor to the Victoria County History in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and a local publisher (Hobnob Press). He has been researching, lecturing and writing about Wiltshire’s history for some forty years.

Wilton: Town and Topography
By observing the modern pattern of streets and houses, public and private spaces, and then by looking at older maps and documents, it is often possible to discern how a town has developed over centuries. Wilton, an early bridging point and administrative focus, home to a major abbey and later a mansion and parkland, and with subsequent careers as an industrial and military centre, has had a particularly interesting and somewhat unusual evolution, as Dr Chandler will endeavour to show in this brief presentation.

Dr Adam Chapman

Institute of Historical Research, University of London

Adam is Lecturer in Medieval History and Editorial Coordinator with the Victoria County History based at the Institute of Historical Research in London.

Adam specialises in the history of Wales and England from the thirteenth century to the fifteenth. His research interests include the cultural effects of war on medieval society, the development of the medieval landscape, and tracing the lives and careers of individuals through documentary records. He is also interested in the development and application of new technology to historical and archaeological research. He has published on the role of Wales and the Welsh in later medieval England.

The Welsh origins of the Herbert earls of Pembroke, c.1400–1469
The story of the Herbert family begins in south Wales in the fifteenth century. They rose fast from obscurity and from being minor gentry in what is now Monmouthshire, William Herbert was the first Welshman to be ennobled in the English peerage in 1469 and lost his life as a victim of the Wars of the Roses following the battle of Edgecote a year later. This talk will explain the origins of the family, the choice of the surname Herbert, and the relationship between the Herbert earls and this family line. It will also give a sense of how the family played with Welsh and English identity in the fifteenth century.

Zoe Cupit

Wilton Community Land Trust

Zoe was Wilton Town Coordinator and Wilton Community Land Trust Coordinator. She joined the CLT in October 2016. Previously Zoe worked in events, theatre and community engagement projects. Zoe’s role is to develop and maintain relationships within the community, develop local partnerships, actively raise the profile of the CLT and assist with the development of Affordable Housing Projects. She lives in neighbouring Stapleford with her partner, children, and labradors.

Planning for the Future
Wilton Community Land Trust works to integrate, promote and stimulate local ventures in
four prime areas – housing, trade, tourism, and community. This talk will discuss some of the
ways in which Wilton is moving forwards into its next phase.

Steve Dunn

Salisbury Cathedral

Steve Dunn retired as the Head Guide of Salisbury Cathedral in 2016. He now directs the Cathedral’s Graffiti Survey Project, part of the Cathedral’s 800th Anniversary programme.

If Not Wilton, Then Where? The Establishment of Cathedrals in Old and New Sarum
Dunn provides an overview of the circumstances of the location of the original cathedral, and its subsequent move from Old Sarum to the site in New Sarum (Salisbury), outlining the ways in which Wilton was related to this process.

Dr Russ Foster


Graduate of Southampton University (BA 1982, First Class; Ph D. 1986). A teacher for 28 years, now a freelance historian. Author of The Politics of County Power (1990) and Wellington and Waterloo 1815-2015 (2014). Has written over 100 entries totalling over 250,000 words for The History of Parliament Trust for the 1832-1867 volumes. Currently writing a biography of Sidney Herbert (2019). Elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2005. Also guides at Wilton House.

Wilton c. 1794-1918: From Oligarchy to Democracy
Wilton’s politics and government towards the close of the eighteenth century were controlled almost entirely by the earls of Pembroke from Wilton House. Both the town’s corporation and its two MPs were more or less nominated by them. Wilton (before 1832 also the county town for Wiltshire) only took tentative steps towards more representative government from 1832 as a result of the Great Reform Act. But real change was slow with the corporation remaining unreformed for several decades and the political representation still monopolised by friends or members of the Hebert family. Real change only came about with the passing of the Second and Third Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884 – though true democracy was postponed until the end of the Great War.

Dr Samantha Harper

University of Winchester

Dr. Samantha Harper was a Researcher on the Tudor Chamber Books project. She has published a number of articles on the reign of Henry VII and the City of London in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

Henry VII, the Herbert Family, and Wilton (c.1484-1521)
The reign of Henry VII represented a temporary blip in the fortunes of the Herbert family. After recently having their Earldom of Pembroke downgraded to that of Huntingdon by Richard III, the family lost their comital position completely with the death of William Herbert, 1st earl of Huntingdon, in 1491. Dr Harper, using the evidence to be found in the expense and receipt books of the King’s Chamber (known collectively as the Chamber Books), will examine the rise, fall and eventual rise again of the Herbert family during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

She will also give a brief overview of the Tudor Chamber Books Project, based at the University of Winchester and funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The aim of this two-year project is to make the text of the King’s Chamber Books digitally available and searchable for the first time, and to promote research into Tudor court culture, politics and kingship. The Chamber Books, covering the period 1485 to 1521, are unique, in that they are the earliest systematic private records of the financial decisions of an English monarch. They give unparalleled insight into royal personality, spending habits and material goods, the interaction of private and public, and the politics and finances of kingship. They also provide insight into the relationship Henry VII and Henry VIII had with their nobles, as shall be seen through an examination of the fortunes of the Herbert family during this period.

Dr Claire Harrill

University of Birmingham

Dr Harrill was a Visiting Lecturer in the English Department of the University of Birmingham. Her research interests include queens and queenship, book history, and literary politics in the earlier medieval period.

Educating Queens: Wilton Abbey in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries
Wilton Abbey was responsible for the education of some of the most powerful women of the early Middle Ages, among them Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor, Emma of Normandy, Margaret of Scotland and Edith Matilda, wife of Henry I. Stephanie Hollis describes the abbey as a ‘hot house’ of education; an ‘elite boarding school’ for elite women, featuring the best eleventh-century education for women and even a zoo of exotic animals. Dr Harrill will discuss the influence this community of highly educated and deeply pious royal women had on the political landscape of Britain in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, arguing for the importance of literacy and education to queenly power, and demonstrating Wilton’s part in this political currency of books, literacy, and piety available to early medieval noblewomen.

Ros Liddington

Wilton House

Ros Liddington worked in Africa and Asia for many years, having experiences that fanned her interest in collecting artefacts and costume. She wrote and delivered the Education Programme for Wilton House in 2000, winning the Sandford award for Heritage Education in 2003 and 2008. Now running ‘Learning Goes Live,’ Ros takes interactive (in the old fashioned sense) history days into Wilton House and schools across the area. She has researched and delivered a number of exhibitions at Wilton including D-Day, the 60th Anniversary; Catherine Vorontsov: The Russian Countess; Of Corset’s Art (Costume through Art). Ros has researched and lectured in the USA and the Crimea on behalf of the Wilton Estate.

Wilton House: The Making of a Modern Estate
From the dawn of the nineteenth century the stately homes emerged somewhat from their privileged past to embrace the great social and cultural changes of the time. An enlightened and philanthropic generation at Wilton embarked on the creation of a working estate, paying its way and paving political and cultural paths in order to survive.

Mathew Lyons


Mathew was born in North West London. He studied English Language and Literature at Leeds University, where he also went on to take an MA in Renaissance Literature. His books include In the Footsteps of JRR Tolkien, Impossible Journeys and The Favourite. He is currently working on a book about the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Mathew is a frequent contributor to History Today, and has written or reviewed for Financial Times, Times Literary Supplement, Spectator, New Statesman, Management Today, The Guardian and The Times among others.

Creative Destruction: The Herbert Family from the Dissolution of the Monasteries to The First Folio
It is said that Sir William Herbert, who was granted Wilton Abbey in 1544 and subsequently became the first Earl of Pembroke, could neither read nor write, and signed his name with a stamp. But over the decades that followed, his family would become central to the English Renaissance – both as writers themselves and as patrons. In his talk, Mathew Lyons will examine the creative role of patronage, and explore how the wealth that flowed from the destruction of the monasteries in the 1530s enabled the Herbert family to nurture, inspire and protect a generation of English writers, among them Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare.

Christine Matthews

Formerly a history teacher, Christine is a Wessex Blue Badge Guide, Clerk to the Trustees for Wilton United Charites and the Parish Secretary at St Mary & St Nicholas Church, Wilton.

Bequests, Brides and Bellringers: How Charities Have Served Us
Christine’s talk will discuss charity provision from medieval times to post-Welfare State in Wilton in the areas of health, education and relief of poverty. She will focus on Wilton’s historic charities (especially the 18th/19th century ones) and the buildings and bequests left for this purpose, as well as similar foundations to be found in the Salisbury and Wessex area.

Sue van Leest


Qualified youth and community development worker, Ex-MOD civil servant, working across Salisbury Plain for over 11 years, now working to deliver the OurWilton project on the site of the old HQ Land Forces military establishment on Wilton Hill.

Remembering HQ UKLF and Looking Forward With the OurWilton Project
A look at the impact that HQ UK Land Forces had on the military and local community in Wilton, and how the new development at Wilton Hill aims to remember and celebrate this military past, moving forward into 2018 and beyond.

Churches Conservation Trust

Old St. Mary’s Church, Wilton
The Churches Conservation Trust is the national charity saving historic churches at risk. They have saved over 350 buildings, which attract almost 2 million visitors a year. Their unique collection of English parish churches includes irreplaceable examples of architecture, archaeology and art from 1,000 years of history. With their help and with your support these churches are kept open and in use – living once again at the heart of their communities. The CCT looks after Old St. Mary’s Church in Wilton.

George Herbert in Bemerton Group

The Country Parson’: George Herbert, Rector of Fugglestone with Bemerton
The George Herbert in Bemerton Group was founded in 2002 by local resident Canon Judy Rees, on her return to Lower Bemerton after a long absence. The members of the Group cover a wide spectrum of interests, both religious and secular.