1580s–1610s The Thynnes, Wiltshire
One of the ironies of the 1590s encounter described in THE GENTRY between the Thynnes and their hated neighbors the Mervyns is that for a moment the Thynnes looked stupid and the Mervyns like the canny ones. But that is not how it turned out. The Thynnes are one of the great success stories of the English gentry. Like the Cavendishes, the Spencers and the Cecils, the family escaped the vulnerabilities of a gentry existence and entered the realms of the higher — and richer — aristocracy. Longleat became the headquarters of an enormous and ever-growing estate. As Barons, Viscounts and finally Marquesses of Bath they persisted across the centuries in a way that few gentry families have ever managed.
And the Mervyns? They soon disappeared from history entirely. As soon as their old patriarch died, the heirs starting selling off the inheritance, a large chunk of it to Mervyn Touchet, Lord Audley and Earl of Castlehaven. In him lunacy flowered expansively and he was beheaded in 1631 for sodomizing his servants and participating in the rape by those servants of both his wife and his twelve-year-old stepdaughter. A hiccup, but things were soon restored to something approaching normality and that family also persisted, if on a declining path, until the last and 25th Lord Audley died in 1997.