Queen Elizabeth I is said to have twice visited Helmingham: first in 1561, and later to attend the christening of Lionel Tollemache as her godchild. Lional Tollemache marked the first of ten consecutive generations of the family with that name. Futhermore, Helmingham has been privileged to receive Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Royal Family on many occasions over the last few years.
In 1611 King James I established the title of Baronet, and the contemporary Lionel Tollemache was one of the very first to be titled thus. During the Civil War and before the Restoration in 1660, Helmingham was one of the headquarters of the secret Society of the Sealed Knot, which was instrumental in restoring Charles II back on the throne. In the Hall there are several letters written in exile in Paris from him to Elizabeth Tollemache. Her father had been ‘whipping boy’ to James I’s son – later Charles I – and had earned his Earldom of Dysart and the beautiful Ham House in Richmond Park by taking a beating for the young prince for his misdemeanours.
Elizabeth was a somewhat notorious lady, who on the death of her father became Countess of Dysart in her own right; whilst she and her husband were involved with the Sealed Knot, she still maintained a close friendship with Cromwell. When her husband Lionel Tollemache died, she married again, her second husband being the Duke of Lauderdale, the ‘L’ of the ‘CABAL’ government. On the death of Elizabeth, Ham House was inherited by Lionel Tollemache, her son, who thus became the 3rd Earl of Dysart. He brought more property into the family through marriage with a Wilbraham heiress, who owned the Cheshire properties of Woodhey and Peckforton. Lionel’s brother, General Thomas Tollemache, was killed fighting the French at Brest in 1694. The last three generations of the family have served in the Coldstream Guards.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Wilbraham Tollemache, 6th Earl of Dysart, died without a male heir, leaving his sister Louisa to inherit his title together with Ham House and Buckminster near Grantham. Ham House was turned over to the National Trust in 1948, whilst her descendants still live today at Buckminster. Louisa’s younger sister Jane inherited Helmingham and the Cheshire property, and it was her grandson, John Tollemache, who was made a peer in 1876 for his services to agriculture and the welfare of his tenants.