St Aubyn Family History
Open the doors to an ancient castle and a modern family home
The first member of the St Aubyn family to move to Cornwall was Guy St Aubyn who married the heiress of Colquite in the mid fourteenth Century.
His son, Geoffrey, married even more advantageously, his wife Elizabeth being the only child of Piers Kemyel of Clowance House (near Helston). Clowance became the principal family home until the mid-19th century and the Kemyel inheritance included lands at Lamorna and St Levan which form part of St Aubyn Estates today.
During the English Civil War, Colonel John St Aubyn was a Parliamentarian who in 1647 was appointed Captain of St Michael’s Mount with a remit to secure the peace in the neighbouring area. Twelve years later he bought the Mount from the Bassett family, who had been temporarily impoverished by erecting extensive defences on the island for the Royalist cause. His son – also John - was made a baronet, and was the first of five successive Sir John St Aubyns.
For almost two hundred years, St Michael’s Mount remained a subsidiary home, although the third Sir John retired there and rebuilt the harbour, leading to a revival of the island as a trading centre until it was overtaken by the coming of the railway and development of Penzance’s harbour. He also served as a MP, earning the exasperated respect of Sir Robert Walpole, who said of him “All these men have their price save the little Cornish baronet”.
His grandson, the 5th Sir John was an extremely cultured man, but he led an exotic private life. He had fifteen children, all illegitimate, although he did marry Juliana, the mother of the last nine, once she was past child bearing age. One consequence was that Clowance passed through the terms of its entail to his sister’s son, although Sir John was free to leave St Michael’s Mount as he wished.
Two generations on, the family fortunes had revived sufficiently for another John St Aubyn to build the Victorian wing onto the castle, and complete its transformation from a priory via a fort to a mansion house. This John was also a MP for thirty years, and on his retirement was made Lord St Levan in 1887 for his political services. It was his grandson, the third Lord St Levan, who gave St Michael’s Mount to the National Trust, under an unique arrangement whereby the family have a 999 year lease to live in the castle and a licence to operate the visitor business.
In 2003, James and Mary St Aubyn moved to the castle with their four children. They in their turn became Lord and Lady St Levan when the previous Lord, James’s uncle, died in 2013.