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Sir Thomas Holte (1571 - 1654)
Born Thomas Holte II and knighted by James I in 1603, Sir Thomas was the original owner of Aston Hall (a Jacobean country house in Birmingham), the man after whom the Holte End stand of Villa Park1 is named, and the possessor of quite a legendary temper. He could blow into a rage at a moment's notice, and remain angry for a considerable while. His son, daughter, and chef were all victims of that anger.
The Disinherited Son
Being a knight and a baronet, Sir Thomas made use of his connections to secure his son, Edward, a position in King Charles I's household. Whilst in London, Edward met and married Elizabeth King, daughter of John King, the incumbent Bishop of London. Unfortunately, Sir Thomas did not give his permission for the marriage, and never forgave his son for proceeding with the wedding regardless. Edward was entirely cut out from his inheritance, and despite pleas from the King himself, Sir Thomas never allowed reconciliation. After the death of George in 1641, Edward was Sir Thomas' only remaining son. Sir Thomas re-married in short order, and made great efforts to raise another son, so that Edward could be permanently cut out of the estate. Edward died in 1643, having never returned to the family fold despite his several attempts. Sir Thomas' second wife was able to give him another son, but the boy did not survive past childhood, in common with nine of the children from Sir Thomas' first marriage. During his last days he was finally persuaded to leave Aston Hall and all his estates to Edward's son, Robert.
The Starved Daughter
As must now be clear, Sir Thomas had very definite ideas on what he considered to be a good marriage. Hence, having found what he believed to be a good husband for one of his daughters, he would instruct her to marry him. One of his daughters, thought possibly to have been Elizabeth, refused to be wed to Sir Thomas' choice. Not a man to change his mind, he locked her in the attic and forbade her food and drink until she agreed. She was, regretfully, as obstinate as her father, and never changed her mind either. She died in the attic, and it is said that her spirit still haunts the room.
The Cleft Chef
In 1606, whilst living at Duddeston Hall, and before the construction of Aston Hall, Sir Thomas was particularly proud of his cook. This cook, he claimed, could make a feast fit for a king at a moment's notice. One day he was out hunting with his friends, and decided to put the cook to the test. A runner was sent ahead, warning the cook that a party was arriving, and that he should prepare a feast for them. The cook was not up to the task, and Sir Thomas arrived home to an empty table. Sir Thomas' reaction to this sight was described by one William Ascrick:
'Sir Thomas tooke a cleever and hytt hys cooke with the same cleever .. and clave hys heade that the one side thereof fell upone one of his shoulders, and the other syde on the other shoulder..'
Sir Thomas was outraged at Ascrick's description and sued the man for slander. Sir Thomas won the case, but Ascrick later appealed, and the verdict was overturned. Interestingly, Sir Thomas never faced a murder charge over the assault. It is said that this is because Ascrick never actually accused Sir Thomas of killing his cook - merely that he split the man's head in two; but it is equally possible that the court may have ignored the implication of the statement in favour of the prominent local land-owner and knight of the realm.
On The Other Hand
Sir Thomas was, despite his rages, an educated and intelligent man. In his youth he spent time at Oxford University, and it is claimed that he could converse in several languages. His father died when Sir Thomas was 21, and though he inherited a great deal (including Duddeston Hall and a house in London), he also increased the family's fortunes by a substantial amount. He was one of a company of gentlemen that rode out to meet King James I on his journey to assume the throne in London, and was knighted for the deed. He also bought a Baronet from King James, establishing a title that he could pass on to his descendants. His first wife provided him with fifteen children before dying in 1627. Only six of those children survived into adulthood, and only one of them survived Sir Thomas himself. Sir Thomas died aged 83, which was an incredible age for the period, and the family coat-of-arms was altered to incorporate some memory of Sir Thomas.
However, it must be noted that the alteration was the inclusion of a bloodied hand, supposedly the image of Sir Thomas' own hand after he split his cook's head in two with a cleaver. Mud sticks, doesn't it?
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