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DOVER, Robert (c1575/82–1652) - Steward of the Wickhamford Court Baron (1632-1650)

A summary of Robert Dover’s life

Robert Dover was born in Great Ellingham, Norfolk, at some time around 1575-80 (the Parish register for this period has not survived).  He attended Queen’s College, the University of Cambridge in 1695, but he left University early to avoid swearing the Oath of Supremacy. A Robert Dover was among those questioned by Lord Burghley's officers looking for recusants in Norfolk.  On 27th February 1605, Dover was admitted to Gray's Inn, and was probably called to the bar in 1611. That year he moved to Saintbury, near Chipping Campden, Glos.  In 1610, he had married Sibilla Sanford, daughter of William Cole, Dean of Lincoln, and widow of John Sanford of Stow-on-the-Wold; they had two sons (Robert, who died in infancy, and John, 1614–1696) and two daughters (Sibella and Abigail). The family later moved to Barton-on-the-Heath, near Stratford. Robert Dover was buried at Barton on 24th July 1652.  No memorial remains at the Church or in the Churchyard.

Wickhamford Connections

As a lawyer, he was appointed Steward of the Wickhamford Court Baron in March 1632/33; (the year ended on 24th March under the Julian calendar, so 6th March would have been towards the end of the Julian year 1632, but would be considered as 1633 in the Gregorian calendar). 

Lady Penelope Sandys was Court Baron on 6th March 1632/33 when Robert Dover attended his first meeting as Steward.  He acted in this role on fourteen occasions between 1632/33 and 1650.  After that date the Court was not held again until 1675, because of the Civil War, by which time Robert Dover had died. By 1637, Lord Samuel Sandys had reached his age of majority and he took over as Court Baron from his mother. The position of Steward would have been one for which Robert Dover was paid, as a lawyer, and he may well have had similar roles in other Courts.

Details of the cases that came before the Court are covered in some detail elsewhere, but concerned the Wickhamford Estate matters such as land use, house maintenance and the tenancy of fields. One case of homicide was heard in 1639. The Court consisted of the Court Baron, Steward and Homage – some of the village residents acting as a type of jury.  

Robert Dover’s main call to fame

At University, Robert Dover would have been familiar with the Gog Magog Games, held outside of Cambridge every year.  Dover founded his own annual Games held in the Cotswold Hills above Chipping Campden in about 1612, he and presided over them for forty years. A mixture of courtly and folk events, the Cotswold Games, or Olimpicks, consisted of cudgel-playing, wrestling, running at the quintain, jumping, casting the bar and hammer, hand-ball, gymnastics, rural dances and games and horse-racing, the winners in which received valuable prizes.  The Games were interrupted by the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, but were revived after the Restoration.

Cotswold Games
A 1636 print showing Robert Dover on horseback presiding over his Olimpick Games. After the inauguration of the Games, he obtained patronage from neighbour, Endymion Porter, a well-connected courtier, who arranged for Dover to receive a cast-off set of royal garments to wear while presiding.

Tom Locke, February 2021