Tropnell trained as a lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn in London and was called to the Bar in 1445 and in 1449 he became an M.P. for Bath. He enjoyed a successful and lucrative career as Steward to the Hungerford family who held 85 manors.
Robert Hungerford, 3rd Lord Hungerford was executed in 1464, (as was his son, Thomas in 1468), for their support for the Lancastrian cause in the Wars of the Roses and in the same year (1464) Robert’s mother, Margaret, Lady Hungerford, gave Tropnell various rents and lands. Tropnell was very careful not to upset either the Yorkist or Lancastrian side in their bloody battles for the crown. In December 1471 he was pardoned by the Yorkists and in 1484 was twice pardoned by Richard III. He was clearly a very lucky man.
He was also an astute investor, acquiring a dozen holdings in Corsham in north Wiltshire from 1430’s to 1470’s and having claim to over 50 properties as his Cartulary shows. He was a determined litigator and was once described as “a perilous covetouse man”.
He worked long and hard to establish his claim to Great Chalfield, then, once aquired and using stone from his own quarry at Hazlebury, began to rebuild the Manor and church in 1467.
He had a lively sense of humour and friendly griffons display his coat of arms on the roof gables. A monkey sits above the priest’s roof.
He died on 30 January 1488 and was buried in a tomb he had designed for himself and his second wife, Margaret, in Corsham Church, Corsham where he had lived previously.
There are no records telling us who he was, but a story runs that while the painter who was working on a huge wall painting of the story of St Katherine, (who was the patron saint of barristers!), in the newly built chapel added to the church next door, Tropnell’s wife asked him to make a portrait of her husband. The figure is dressed in the clothes of a wealthy person in the times of 1450′s. He wears a beaver felt hat, (very expensive at the time) and a lined and decorated coat wrapped around him and secured by a strong belt. From the belt hangs a large money bag. He looks very stern and intimidating and not somebody to argue with.
There was already a small parish church at Great Chalfield more than a hundred years before Tropnell began his rebuilding of the manor house. He added a decorated spire and bellcote, a panelled porch and a chapel on the south side. On the west wall of the chapel are the remains of a large wall painting depicting six scenes from the life and martyrdom of Saint Katherine of Alexandria: she was the patron saint of barristers.
The chapel is parted from the nave by a fifteenth century stone screen which carries five painted coats of arms. These shields record the Tropnell marriages starting on the left in the thirteenth century: when Walter Tropnell married Katharine Percy. Roger Tropnell, great grandfather of Thomas the builder, then married Christian Rous. The central shield bears Thomas Tropnell’s own arms. The fourth shield shows Tropnell impaling Ludlow of Hill Deverill: Thomas’ second wife Margaret, widow of John Erley, was daughter to William Ludlow. The fifth shield records the marriage of Thomas’ parents, Henry Tropnell his father married Edith, daughter of Walter Roche.
In the latter half of the 15th century, John Aubrey noted of Tropnell’s cartulary, “It is an excellent booke in parchment, well writ.”
The Cartulary is a compendium of documents- deeds, histories and titles to various Wiltshire properties.
When historians wanted to consult the book in the nineteenth century, it could not be found. It came to light again in 1908 and his claim to Great Chalfield can now be studied again.