A tale of two marriages

In 1677,  in the seventeenth year of the reign of Charles II, two middle-aged men declared their intention to marry. Both were widowers, both lived in the Stepney area to the east of London, both planned to marry widows named Elizabeth – and both men bore the name of William Greene.

An image of seventeenth-century marriage

In the last two posts, I’ve been reviewing what we know about my ancestor, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, who died in 1685, and his namesake William Greene of Wapping, also a mariner, who died in 1696. Among the recent additions to Ancestry’s record collections are London and Surrey marriage bonds and allegations for the years 1597 – 1921. It was here that I came across the two 1677 ‘allegations’ in the name of William Greene, one of which might relate to my ancestor – or to the ‘other’ William Greene. I’ll reproduce my transcriptions of these two documents below, then discuss what I think they tell us.

The marriage allegation of William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott

The first record is dated ’20 Marty 1676/7′ and reads as follows:

Appeared personally Thomas Sumerly of St Pauls Shadwell in ye County of Midds & alledgeth that there is a marriage shortly to be solemnized between Wm Greene of Stepney in ye County of Midds widdower aged 50 yeares or thereabouts & Elizabeth Elliott of ye same place widow aged 35 or thereabouts & is at her owne dispose in marriage not knowing any lawfull Lett or impediment to hinder the sd intended marriadge of ye truth of wch he made Oath and prayed Lycence for them for them to be marryed in ye parish Church of St Bartholomew the Lesse of St Paul Shadwell aforesd

Tho Sumerly

‘Marty’ is obviously March (from the Latin ‘Martius’), and I understand that the curious way of expressing the date (1676/7) is due to the fact that England was still using the Julian calendar and the stroke (/) was to indicate the difference between the old and new styles. Thomas Sumerly was a ‘scrivener’, a scribe whose duties included making records of marriages and wills. The only church of St Bartholomew the Less I can find is in the City of London, which makes me think that (despite appearances) the ‘of’ before St Paul Shadwell, in the final sentence, should be ‘or’.

The marriage allegation of William Greene and Elizabeth Noble

The second record is dated ‘11th Oct 1677’:

Appeared personally Wm Green mariner of the parish of St Pauls Shadwell widower aged 42 yeares and att his owne dispose and alledged that hee intends to marry with Elizabeth Noble of the parish of St Mary Matfellon als WhiteChappell widow aged 36 and att her own dispose and that hee knoweth of noe Lawfull let or Impediment to hinder the sd intended Marriage & of the truth of the promises (?) he hath made under faith and received a Licence to bee married in the parish church of Stepney or St Mary White Chappell   Will Greene

‘St Mary Matfelon’ is the official name for the church of St Mary, Whitechapel.

Of course, it’s possible that neither of these records refers to either of the two men I’ve been researching. However, the date, locations and (in the second case) the groom’s occupation, suggest a likely connection with at least one of them. The link between the ‘other’ William Greene (i.e. not my ancestor) and the parish of St Paul, Shadwell (his three children were christened and his first wife, Mary, buried there), means that he is the prime candidate in both cases. However, the tie to Shadwell is stronger in the second case, where the William Greene in question is said to be actually of  the parish, whereas in the first record, St Paul’s is only mentioned as one of two possible locations for the ceremony (and as the scrivener’s own parish), and this William Greene is more vaguely ‘of Stepney’.

We know that the ‘other’ William Greene’s first wife, Mary, was buried on 4th December 1676. If we interpret ’20 Marty 1676/7′ as meaning the year that followed this, then either of these records could apply to him. My feeling is that the description ‘mariner of the parish of St Pauls Shadwell’ in the second record is more likely to apply to him than to my ancestor. If this is indeed the ‘other’ William, and he was 42 years old when he married Elizabeth Noble, then he would have been in his late thirties when the three children of his first marriage were born (between 1672 and 1676), prompting speculation that Elizabeth might actually have been his third rather than his second wife.

At the same time, this second record almost certainly does not relate to ‘my’ William Greene. He and his wife Elizabeth would have a son, Joseph (my 7 x great grandfather) christened on 14th March 1677. So, could the first of these two marriage allegations refer to ‘my’ William? Well, only if the year was actually 1676, i.e. the year before Joseph’s birth. To add to the confusion over dates, the parish register of St Dunstan’s, Stepney, where Joseph was christened, runs on from December 1677 to January 1677, so I’m really unsure whether the two dates match up.

Certainly, the age given for William in the allegation would fit with what we already know. The William Greene who planned to marry Elizabeth Elliott was ‘aged 50 yeares or thereabouts’. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is some uncertainty about the age of Captain William Greene at the time of his death: the inscription on his tomb might read ‘60’, or possibly anything between 60 and 69. But the William Greene who married Elizabeth Elliott in March 1676/7 would certainly have been 60 years old ‘or thereabouts’ when he died in January 1686. Does this make it more likely that this record refers to my ancestor? Conversely, if we could prove that to be the case, then would it confirm that Captain Greene was in fact about 60 when he died, meaning that he was born in 1626 – ‘or thereabouts’? This might make it easier to identify a record of his birth or baptism, and therefore his parentage.

On the other hand, this first allegation raises questions about the age of William’s intended bride, Elizabeth. If she was indeed 35 years old ‘or thereabouts’ in 1676/7, then she would have been born in about 1642. I understand that childbearing in the seventeenth century continued until about the age of 40, so it’s possible that this Elizabeth could be the mother of my 7 x great grandfather Joseph, who was born in 1677. However, thinking about Elizabeth’s age has made me doubt another date on the family tomb. The inscription on the tomb in Stepney churchyard states that Elizabeth, widow of Captain William Greene, died on 14th December 1712, aged 80. However, if this is the same Elizabeth who was the mother of Joseph, then she would have been 45 when she gave birth to him, which seems extremely unlikely. Either Captain Greene’s widow was a different Elizabeth – i.e. a third wife with the same name – or the date of death on the tomb is wrong. If, for example, it actually reads 1722, not 1712, then Elizabeth would have been 35 when Joseph was born – and her details would match those on this first marriage allegation of 1677.

William Greene of St Paul’s Shadwell married Elizabeth Noble of St Mary’s Whitechapel at St Dunstan’s, Stepney on 16th October 1677. On 8th April 1679, a child named William Greene was christened at St Paul’s, Shadwell: he was the son of William Greene, mariner, and his wife Elizabeth, of Wapping Wall. Despite my best efforts I’ve yet to find a record of the marriage of William Greene and Elizabeth Elliot, at either St Paul’s, Shadwell or St Bartholomew the Less.

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