Analysing the 1653 will of Nicholas Maunser of Hightown

Nicholas Maunser of Hightown, near Wadhurst in Sussex, made his last will and testament in 1653, the year in which Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. It was also the year in which provincial probate courts were abolished (they were restored in 1660 at the Restoration): hence the fact that Nicholas’ will was proved at Westminster and not in Sussex.

What do we learn from Nicholas Maunser’s will about him and his family? Firstly, as to his family of origin, we learn that Nicholas had a brother named John, to whom he bequeaths twenty shillings a year. If Nicholas was, as I believe, the son of William Maunser of Hightown, then his brother was the John Maunser of Southwark mentioned in the family pedigree to which I referred in an earlier post. Nicholas also had a sister Mary, who married Thomas Scotson: she is not mentioned in the will, but she might have died by this time.

Nicholas bequeaths property to Sarah ‘my nowe wife’. There is a slight contradiction here with the pedigree chart, which claims that his wife was named Elizabeth, but perhaps the term ‘nowe wife’ is meant to signify that Sarah is Nicholas’ present, but not his first wife, as it were.

Part of the revised pedigree of the Maunser family

Part of the revised pedigree of the Maunser family

Certainly the information about Nicholas’ children contained in the will confirms what we know about Nicholas, son of William Maunser. We learn that he had four surviving sons, in this order: Thomas, Nicholas, Herbert and Abraham. This matches exactly the seventh and final generation in the revised pedigree chart (see above). That chart also claims that Nicholas had two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, and reflecting this the will mentions two sons-in-law: David Leader of London and Giles Watts.

I’ve found evidence of a couple with the names David and Elizabeth Leader living in the parish of St Olave, Old Jewry, in the City of London, at about this time. In 1641 David and Elizabeth Leader had a son named David baptised there, and in 1647 their daughter Deborah was christened. This was at the height of the Civil War, so there may have been other births that went unrecorded. In 1660 Elizabeth the daughter of David Leader was buried at St Olave’s, and on 18th April 1662, ‘Mr David Leader’ was laid to rest. In the same parish a merchant by the name of Richard Leader merchant married Anne Hall in 1657: was he a relative, and if so, does this suggest that David Leader was a merchant too?

St Olave Jewry, London

St Olave Jewry, London

A document in the National Archives records that on 16th January 1683 a mortgage of £250 was conveyed by John Lunsford of Westfield, gent, to Giles Watts of Battle, mercer.  On 11 April 1687 there was a transfer of mortgage from Robert Watts of Battle, draper and John Maunser, executors of Giles Watts, to Edward Britt of Guestling, husbandman. I’m not sure how this John Maunser fits into the family tree. My guess is that Giles Watts was married to Nicholas Maunser’s younger daughter, Mary. Other records in the Archives suggest that Giles Watts of Battle occupied Witheris, a farm in Burwash mentioned in Nicholas’ will. This may be a later Giles Watts – perhaps his son? – and he may or may not be the ‘doctor of physic’ of that name who died in 1792 in Battle.

David Holland of Wadhurst, another mercer, who was appointed as one of the overseers of Nicholas Maunser’s will, together with William Barham of Ticehurst, is also mentioned in other documents relating to both the Maunser and Barham families. Apparently he was the younger son of John Holland of Lamberhurst, by Mary his wife, who was the daughter of John Barham. His name appears in a document dated 1650 relating to the property known as Gutsoll, also referred to in Nicholas Maunser’s will:

Nicholas Manser of High Town in Wadhurst, gent, and his son Herbert Manser, with Thomas Houghton of Mayfield, gent (retiring trustee), and David Holland of Wadhurst, mercer, to William Barham of Ticehurst, gent, and David Holland, in trust messuage, barns, out-houses, stables, orchard and land called Gutsoll in Burwash.

Herbert Manser’s wife Sarah is mentioned in this document, as is their eldest son Nicholas (also mentioned in Nicholas’ will). The owners of the property are to pay ‘an annuity of £16 to HM’s wife Sarah in lieu of dower, and use the residue for the maintenance and education of their children during the minority of their eldest son Nicholas Manser, using the first two fellings of the wood (none to exceed 12 years’ growth) which take place after HM’s death to raise portions for the younger children; when HM’s son Nicholas Manser is 21 and the woods felled, the trustees to convey the estate to him, charged with a rent-charge of £16 in favour of his mother Sarah.’

From another source, I’ve learnt that Herbert Manser or Maunser was born in 1619 and that he married Sarah Haffenden in Lewes on 19th December 1643. This means that their son Nicholas must have been, at most, six years old when the above contract was drawn up. Confusingly, we learn from Nicholas Maunser’s will that his eldest son Thomas also had a son named Nicholas.

Parish church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Wadhurst

Parish church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Wadhurst

The preamble to Nicholas Maunser’s will, with its expressed hope of joining the ‘elect’ in heaven, may be an indication of his (Calvinist) religious opinions. His references to ‘my reverent friend the Minister of Wadhurst’ and ‘our reverend Minister Mr Willcocks’ appear to confirm this. According to a guide to Wadhurst parish church, it contains a black marble slab ‘commemorating the Rev James Wilcocke (correctly Wilcocks or Wilcox)’ who died in 1662, which is inscribed ‘indignissimus hujus loci minister’ (‘most unworthy minister of this place’), though the inscription goes on to say that he and his beloved wife Mary sleep in the same tomb in confident expectation of redemption. The guide continues:

The fact is, however, that Wilcocks was ‘intruded’, that is, foisted upon an unwilling parish during the time of the Commonwealth because he was prepared to take services in accordance with Puritan rites which were alien and unpalatable to a Church of England congregation, and it is not unlikely that some considered him ‘indignissimus’.

Willcocks died two years after the Restoration, when the parishioners of Wadhurst would have felt free to vent their feelings about their imposed Puritan parson. Reading between the lines of his will, it would seem that Nicholas Maunser of Hightown was not among those who considered the minister to be ‘unworthy’.

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