Earldom of Denbigh
held with
Earldom of Desmond

Arms of Feilding, Earls of Denbigh: Argent, on a fess azure three fusils or[1]
Creation date1622
Created byJames VI and I
PeeragePeerage of England
First holderWilliam Feilding, 1st Viscount Feilding
Present holderAlexander Feilding, 12th Earl of Denbigh, 11th Earl of Desmond
Heir apparentPeregrine Feilding, Viscount Feilding
Subsidiary titlesViscount Feilding
Viscount Callan
Baron Fielding of Newnham Paddockes
Baron St Liz
Baron Fielding of Lecaghe
Seat(s)Newnham Paddox
MottoCrescit sub pondere virtus (Virtue grows under oppression)
William Feilding, 1st Earl of Denbigh, visited India in 1631–3. On his return, Van Dyck painted him in oriental dress.

Earl of Denbigh (pronounced 'Denby') is a title in the Peerage of England. It was created in 1622 for William Feilding, Viscount Feilding, a courtier, admiral, and brother-in-law of the powerful Duke of Buckingham. The title is named after the town of Denbigh in the county of Denbighshire, Wales. Since the time of the third earl (1640), the Earl of Denbigh has also held the title of Earl of Desmond, in the Peerage of Ireland.

The family seat is Newnham Paddox, in the parish of Monks Kirby, Warwickshire. The eighth earl converted to Roman Catholicism during the 1850s, in which faith the family has remained. The earldom was one of the hereditary peerages whose entitlement to sit in the House of Lords was removed by the House of Lords Act 1999.[2]

The origins of the Feilding family

The Feilding family have been Lords of Newnham Paddox in Monks Kirby, Warwickshire, since 1433. They are in part descended from the Newnham family (named from the estate) who held Newnham Paddox in the 1100s and 1200s (see history of Monks Kirby). Until the time of the first earl, the family were minor midlands gentry: the historian Gardiner in the nineteenth century described William Feilding as ‘The plain country gentleman who had the good luck to marry Buckingham's sister in the days of her poverty.’[3]

Wishing for more impressive origins, from the time of the second earl a story was promulgated that the family were descended from the Habsburgs through the counts of Laufenburg and Rheinfelden. The family incorporated the Habsburg double headed eagle in their coat of arms and took to naming their sons Rudolph. The claimed royal ancestry was researched by historians Edward Gibbon, William Dugdale, and Evelyn Shirley and, while it was subject to ridicule, it was also widely accepted for centuries. Indeed, Shirley states in Noble and Gentlemen of England (1859) ‘The princely extraction of this noble family is well known.. The name Feilding is derived from Rinfelden in Germany..’.[4] The claim was, however, comprehensively debunked around the turn of the 20th century by J. Horace Round.[4][5][6]

1780 Satirical print of the arms of the Feilding family superimposed on the Habsburg double-headed eagle lacking one head, dedicated to the Garter King of Arms and mocking the family's pretensions at ancestral connections to the Habsburg dynasty.

Creation of the titles of Earl of Denbigh and Earl of Desmond

See also: Earl of Desmond

William, the first earl of Denbigh, owed his elevation in court and to the peerage primarily to his marriage with Susan Villiers. The Villiers family were also minor gentry until Susan's brother, George Villiers, became the confidant and lover of King James I and was granted the dukedom of Buckingham. Exceptionally powerful, George Villiers showered preferment on his family: not only was William Feilding made Earl of Denbigh, but William's eight-year-old second son (named George after his important uncle) was given the right to an additional earldom – that of Desmond.[7]

William Feilding, the First Earl of Denbigh

Sir William Feilding was Master of the Great Wardrobe under King James I and also took part in the Expedition to Cádiz of 1625. Feilding had already been created Baron Feilding, of Newnham Paddox in the County of Warwick, and Viscount Feilding in 1620 before being made Earl of Denbigh in 1622. All three titles are in the Peerage of England. In 1631, Lord Denbigh visited the East as erstwhile ambassador to the Safavid court in Persia.[8]

Basil Feilding, the Second Earl of Denbigh

Lord Denbigh was succeeded by his eldest son, Basil, the second Earl. Basil served as ambassador to Venice, and in military service to the Holy Roman Empire. He famously fought as a roundhead in the Civil War, unlike the rest of the family. In 1664, he was created Baron St Liz in the Peerage of England, with remainder to the heirs male of his father.[9]

George Feilding, the First Earl of Desmond (4th Creation)

William's second son was the Hon. George Feilding. In 1622, when George was around 8 years old, James I created him Baron Fielding, of Lecaghe in the County of Tipperary, and Viscount Callan, of Callan in the County of Kilkenny. At the same time, George was given the right to the title Earl of Desmond as and when the previous holder of that title died without an heir. That happened in 1628. All three titles were in the Peerage of Ireland. Earl of Desmond is an ancient Irish title, the 1628 award was its 4th, and current creation.

Earls of Denbigh (1st creation) and Earls of Desmond (4th creation)

Basil, the second earl of Denbigh, died childless and was succeeded by his nephew, William Feilding, 2nd Earl of Desmond, who now also became the third Earl of Denbigh (he also succeeded in the barony of St Liz by special remainder).

Basil, the fourth Earl of Denbigh, served as both Lord-Lieutenant of Denbighshire and Warwickshire.

Rudolph, the eighth earl, was a notable member of the Oxford Movement and converted to Roman Catholicism. The family have continued in the Catholic faith, becoming one of the most prominent aristocratic Catholic families.

The ninth Earl served as a Lord-in-waiting (government whip in the House of Lords) from 1897 to 1905 in the Conservative administrations of Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour.

The eleventh earl, under the name Rollo Feilding (the name Rollo, a diminutive of Rudolph, is traditional in the family), raced sports cars and was a notable socialite.[10]

Since the third earl, the titles have descended from father to son, with the exception of the seventh earl and tenth earl who inherited the title from their grandfathers.

The title is currently held by the twelfth earl, who succeeded his father in 1995. As of 2010, Lord Denbigh is Grand Carver of England.

List of Earls of Denbigh and Earls of Desmond

The heir apparent is the present holder's son, Peregrine Rudolph Henry Feilding, Viscount Feilding (b. 2005).

Notable members of the Feilding Family

Children of Edmund Feilding, grandson of the 3rd Earl

Edmund Feilding was the third son of John Feilding, the youngest son of the 3rd earl. He had three notable children all of whom chose to spell their surname in the more conventional fashion as "Fielding":

Children and grandchildren of the 7th Earl


  1. ^ Debrett's Peerage, 1840, p.217
  2. ^ "Earl of Denbigh". UK Parliament. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  3. ^ Firth, Charles Harding (1889). "Feilding, William" . Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 18. p. 290.
  4. ^ a b Trelawny Gower, Terence (2017). "Our English Hapsburgs Revisited" (PDF). The Escutcheon: Journal of Cambridge University Heraldic & Genealogical Society. 22 (3): 34–39. ISSN 1361-8202. Retrieved 24 November 2021.
  5. ^ J. E. M. F. (1898). Some Hapsburghs, Feildings, Denbighs, and Desmonds.
  6. ^ J. H. Round (1901). Studies in Peerage and Family History. p. 216.
  7. ^ "275" . Page:The Complete Peerage Ed 2 Vol 4.djvu – via Wikisource.
  8. ^ "Denbigh, William Feilding, 1st Earl of" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 8 (11th ed.). 1911. p. 17.
  9. ^ "Denbigh, William Feilding, 1st Earl of" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 8 (11th ed.). 1911. p. 17;see para 2. Basil Feilding, 2nd earl of Denbigh (c. 1608–1675).....
  10. ^ "Rollo Feilding". Historicracing.com.