AN EMINENT yet controversial Archbishop of York in the turbulent 16th Century stands out prominently in the long and complex lineage of the present Lord Sandys of Ombersley Court.

The Sandys family tree has branched widely down the centuries and thrown long shadows across the nation's history and Worcestershire's past.

From the ranks of the Sandys have come:

- A succession of MPs who sat continuously in Parliament for more than 200 years.

- Colonels who fought on opposing sides in the English Civil War.

- A colonial figure who drew up the document on which George Washington modelled the United States Constitution.

- The ADC to the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.

The Sandys family trace their descent as far back as the 12th Century to the Sandes of Rattenby Castle in Cumberland. However, when I decided to explore the lives of the present peer's famous forebears I hadn't realised that the task, though fascinating and absorbing, would prove such a researcher's nightmare.

The lineage is hugely complicated and made all the more difficult and confusing by the Sandys' family practice of giving the christian names Edwin or Samuel to successive generations of male heirs.

The first and probably most distinguished Edwin Sandys was born in Lancashire in 1516. He was descended on his mother's side from King William of Scotland and became a leading scholar of his era, graduating from St John's College, Cambridge, and later being appointed Vice Chancellor of the University in 1553.

He led a contentious life, joining an early Puritan Party and championing Lady Jane Grey's cause in the tussle for the monarchy.

It was therefore a bitter task for him when, as university Vice Chancellor, he was ordered to proclaim the succession of Mary Tudor in the Market Place at Cambridge.

In 1554, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London with other former supporters of Lady Jane Grey, but was released after a few months and fled to join Protestant exiles in Germany and Switzerland, where he remained until Queen Mary's death.

Returning to England, he preached sermons at York and elsewhere in hearty support of Queen Elizabeth I, and soon found himself back in favour.

In 1559, when he was 43, he was chosen as the new Bishop of Worcester, and it around this time he first took the lease of Ombersley Manor as an additional home to the Bishop's Palace at Hartlebury.

During his 11 years as Bishop of Worcester, Edwin had several quarrels, most notably with an old enemy, Sir John Bourne of Holt Castle, who had been Mary Tudor's Secretary of State.

In 1570, Edwin was made Bishop of London and, five years later, elevated to Archbishop of York.

He was variously described by contemporaries as being "an obstinate and conscientious puritan," "strongly repressive in tendency," and "a learned and vigorous man involved in many quarrels." He died in 1588 and was buried at Southwell Minster.

Of the archbishop's seven sons, the eldest, Samuel, born in 1560, at Hartlebury, established himself at Ombersley, buying the manor outright and also acquiring another estate at Wickhamford, near Evesham. He served for some years as an MP and was knighted.

He had built most of the half-timbered black and white properties which now form the glory of Ombersley village.

Sir Samuel died in 1623, and his tomb, shared with his wife Mercy, is an eye-catching feature of Wickhamford Church with its ornate splendour and colourful heraldry.

Next to it is the almost equally impressive tomb of his son Sir Edwin, who died just three weeks after succeeding to his father's title.

However, Sir Samuel was overshadowed by his brother, the archbishop's second son - another Edwin - who was born in Worcestershire in 1561. After graduating from Oxford, he became a barrister and a long-serving MP. He was a reforming figure in the Commons for 40 years and was knighted. However, he incurred the wrath of James I in 1613, when he made a significant speech opposing the Divine Right of Kings.

He was an active supporter of the Pilgrim Fathers and later took a great interest in colonial affairs, holding top appointments with the East India Company and the Virginia Company.

At one stage, he was suspected of "harbouring designs to establish a republican or puritan state in America".

In fact, King James strongly opposed the Virginia Company's plan to appoint Edwin as treasurer of their American colony, so much so that he wrote: "Choose the Devil if you like, but not Sir Edwin Sandys."

Edwin was subsequently imprisoned in the Tower of London for his alleged part in the maladministration of the Virginia Company, but was soon released. He married four times and died in 1629.

The youngest of the archbishop's seven sons, George Sandys (1578-1644) became one of the pioneers of Virginia, introducing industry and agriculture and leading an expedition against marauding Indians.

He drew up the colony's Constitution, and it was on this that George Washington later modelled the United States Constitution.

There were two distinguished Sandys cousins who fought on opposing sides in the English Civil War and suffered vastly conflicting fates and fortunes.

Samuel Sandys, who was born at Ombersley, in 1615, became an MP and took the King's side in the Civil War. He was commander of the troop of Royalist cavalry which engaged in the opening skirmish of the war at Powick Bridge, Worcester.

His cousin, Colonel Edwin Sandys was seriously wounded leading the opposing Roundheads. He died of his injuries some hours afterwards and is buried in Worcester Cathedral.

Samuel Sandys, the victor at Powick, fought again at the Battle of Edgehill, where his brother Richard was killed. Later in the war he was appointed Governor of Evesham and Lieutenant Governor of Worcester. He led the Royalist troops who repulsed an attack on Worcester by the celebrated Parliamentary general, Sir William Waller.

At some point too, Samuel is said to have raised a regiment of Worcestershire cavalry and infantry at his own expense. The king finally appointed him as his General for Wales. It is thought that the Royalist Samuel Sandys is commemorated in the name of the historic Ombersley pub, the Crown & Sandys.

Samuel was taken prisoner at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and had severe financial penalties imposed on him. Ombersley Manor was burnt down and the family banished from the estate. However, his inheritance was later restored to him and he went back to Parliament as an MP.

His grandson, another Samuel (1695-1770), was MP for Worcester for 25 years from 1718 and put in hand the construction of the present elegant Queen Anne mansion - Ombersley Court.

He made many major speeches in the Commons, not least one in 1736, when he drew attention to the increase in the National Debt.

He protested against "loading posterity with new debts in order to give a little ease to the present generation". It sounds just as topical a comment today, doesn't it?

This Samuel Sandys owed his political prominence to his untiring Commons opposition to Sir Robert Walpole and, on the downfall of this minister, he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer and a member of the Privy Council.

He lasted only two years as Chancellor but was created Lord Sandys, Baron of Ombersley and became Speaker of the House of Lords. His political prominence declined but he continued to be given posts including First Lord of Plantations and Warden and Chief Justice of the King's Forests South of the Trent.

He died in 1770 "from the effects of injuries received by being overturned in his carriage while coming down Highgate Hill".

He was buried at Ombersley and succeeded by his eldest son, yet another Edwin, who died without issue in 1797 when the title of Baron Sandys became extinct. However, this was for only five years until 1802, when Mary, granddaughter of Samuel, the first Baron Sandys, was created Baroness Sandys of Ombersley. By marriage, she was already the Marchioness of Downshire.

The lineage to the present Lord Sandys is more easily followed from this point.

Baroness Sandys was succeeded by her son Lord Arthur Hill who became the second Lord Sandys of Ombersley Court (that is, in this new baronial line).

Arthur has an interesting place in early 19th Century history as having been ADC to the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He figured in the amazing "rowing boat story" which the present Lord Sandys loves to recount.

"It seems that two days before the Battle of Waterloo, Arthur was in London and told to come at once to the Duke's side. He dashed to Dover, but there were no sailings, so he had to hire a boat for the big sum then of £22, and rowed across the Channel, though he must have had some help."

He reached the Duke in Belgium on the eve of the battle. Wellington is said to have quipped: 'If there had been no boat, Arthur would have swum.'

The present Lord Sandys still possesses the £22 bill for the boat and a hastily-written letter from Arthur to his mother: "My dear Mama. I have just time to say that I am quite well after the hardest battle that ever was fought. Bonaparte was present and completely beat."

In later years, Wellington was a frequent visitor to Ombersley Court where, ever since, there has been a Duke's Room. In front of the Court too stands the immense Wellingtonia tree which the Duke planted.

But by far the most significant reminder of Waterloo on the Sandys Estate is Haye Farm. This stands in countryside just to the south of the A449 Ombersley by-pass and was designed very much as a replica of La Haye Sainte, the famous farmhouse which was the centrepiece of the 1815 battle.

Lord Arthur Hill went on to become a general but died in 1860, when he was succeeded to the Sandys title by his brother, Arthur Marcus Hill, who obtained a Royal Licence to take the name of Sandys.

He was succeeded in 1863 by his eldest son Augustus, who lived until 1904 when his brother Michael, an accomplished amateur boxer, became the fifth baron.

He allowed his stables at Ombersley Court to be used by the horses of the Worcestershire Yeomanry during the First World War, but when his wife died in 1929, he had her room locked up and its contents remained undisturbed for about 20 years.

During the Second World War, it is believed Ombersley Court was marked down by the Nazis as their general headquarters for a thrust towards Birmingham in the, thankfully never attempted, Operation Sea Lion.

The fifth baron died in 1948, at the age of 92 and was succeeded by his cousin, Lt Col Arthur Fitzgerald Sandys Hill of Himbleton Manor, near Droitwich, who was then 72.

Alas, the sixth baron was killed in 1961, when he was in collision with a car while crossing the main Worcester-Kidderminster road at Ombersley.

His death at the age of 84 led to the succession of his only son, the Hon Richard Michael Oliver Hill, the present Lord Sandys, who also inherited the 2,000-acre estates of Ombersley Court, which cover much of Ombersley village.

His mother, Cynthia, Lady Sandys, died in 1990, at the age 92, after extensive voluntary service.

The present Lord's colourful and unusual past

CLEARLY the most colourful and unusual post held by the present Lord Sandys was that of Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard.

He filled this quaint ceremonial appointment from 1979 until 1983, commanding the historic band of men who, in spectacular costumes, form the traditional bodyguard to the monarch.

The Yeomen of the Guard are the oldest existing military corps in the world having first been formed in 1485 by King Henry VII.

Lord Sandys, as Captain, and wearing the traditional uniform with plumed hat and sword, accompanied the Queen on her regular inspections of her bodyguard on the lawns of Buckingham Palace.

The seventh Baron Sandys succeeded to the title 34 years ago at the age of 30 when his father was tragically killed in a road accident.

Since then, he has taken an active role in the House of Lords and was, for several years, the Conservative Government's Deputy Chief Whip in the Upper House and Front Bench spokesman for three ministries - Agriculture, the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security.

As a prominent figure in Parliament during the 1970s and 80s, he followed very much the Sandys family tradition of service at Westminster, spanning centuries.

Lord Sandys has been a Deputy Lieutenant of Worcestershire and Hereford-Worcester since 1968, President of Worcester Conservative Association for many years, and president and chairman of many other county organisations.

Lady Sandys, whom he married in 1961, was Miss Patricia Simpson Hall, daughter of Mr and Mrs Lionel Hall of Parkgate in Sussex.