Revisiting the 1597 will of John Manser of Wadhurst

I’m grateful to my fellow researcher Ed Rydahl Taylor for encouraging me to revisit the will of my 11 x great grandfather John Manser of Wadhurst in Sussex. Ed wondered whether I had managed to decipher the names that I’d indicated by question marks in my original transcription of the will. At that time I only had a paper copy of the will, but I’ve now managed to scan it to my computer and enlarged the text sufficiently to read some of the previously illegible words.

Returning to the will, I realised that all the missing words in my transcription referred to the same person, whom John Manser named as joint overseer with his brother Abraham. Not only that, but I could now see that the missing person was described as John’s brother-in-law. Despite the increased legibility, I still struggled for a time to determine this man’s name. Could it be Smart? But if so, where was the ‘r’? And wasn’t that a double ‘t’ in the final reference to him? Eventually, after some searching in various Sussex records, I came to the conclusion that John Manser’s brother-in-law was, in fact, William Snatt – a surname that I hadn’t come across before.

(via muddlefamilies.info)

(via muddlefamilies.info)

It turns out that the Snatts were a family of yeoman farmers in Rotherfield, about eight miles west of Wadhurst. According to one pedigree, a William Snatt was born there in 1561, the son of John and Jane Snatt. We know from John Manser’s will that his wife was named Jane, and indeed William Snatt had a younger sister of that name, born in 1569. Of course, it’s possible that William Snatt married John Manser’s sister, but I’ve seen no evidence that John had a sister, so this is the more likely explanation. William Snatt died in 1637; there is no reference in his will to a sister named Jane Manser, but she might have predeceased him.

If my theory is correct, and the information in the Snatt pedigree is accurate, then it means that John Manser could not have married Jane Snatt before the mid 1580s, when she would have been in her teens. This fits with our existing knowledge of the family. Their daughter Mary Manser (my 10 x great grandmother) married Stephen Byne in 1611, so would need to have been born by the early 1590s (Stephen was born in 1586 so would have been 25 when they married). Mary Manser’s brother Christopher did not marry until 1621, so was probably still quite young when his father John died in 1598.

Jane Manser would only have been about 29 years old when her husband John died, leaving her with two children still at home. I’ve yet to find any record of a second marriage involving a Jane Manser or Maunser before the 1630s, by which time John’s widow would have been an old woman. Now that I’ve discovered the maiden name of my 11 x great grandmother, I shall be exploring the Snatt family further: after all, Jane’s parents, John and Jane Snatt of Rotherfield, who were married in about 1550, were my 12 x great grandparents.

My initial slowness in identifying William Snatt was due to a failure to believe the evidence of my own eyes and to accept that Snatt was a real surname. Something similar has until now prevented me from identifying another person mentioned in John Manser’s will. We learn from the will that ‘the Queenes most excellent maiesty’ had an ‘extent’ out of John’s lands in Burwash ‘of four pounds by the yeare’. John requires that ‘when the extent is quit payed and discharged to the queens maiesty’ and ‘when the Queenes Maiestye is satisfied’, then his overseers (his brother Abraham Manser and brother-in-law William Snatt) are to ‘pay and discharge…the sum of forty pounds’ owed to a gentleman in Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire. As for this person’s name, believing ‘Fawkner’ to be a mis-spelling, I had been looking, in vain, for a John Faulkner. Once again, it seems I should have trusted what was in front of me. For it appears that the Fawkners (sic) were another family with branches in both Sussex and Northamptonshire.

A man named John Fawkner made his will at Waldron, Sussex, a dozen miles or so south of Wadhurst, in 1589. He mentions two sons named John: ‘the younger’ and ‘the elder’. Could one of these be the John Fawkner of Higham Ferrers? John Fawkner senior was an iron master and a tenant of the Gage family – he leaves his best horse to ‘my good friend Mr Gage of Bentley’ – who were famous Catholic recusants. According to Michael Questier, Fawkner was involved with Gage in interrogating the suspected protestant ‘heretic’ Richard Woodman, who was later burnt at the stake in Lewes, during the reign of Queen Mary.

Mottynsden, Burwash

Mottynsden, Burwash

One of the most intriguing things about Fawkner’s will is his reference to his property Mottingsden or Mottynsden in Burwash, which he bequeaths to his son John ‘the younger’. Some decades later, this property would be in the hands of the Manser family. In his will of 1681 John Manser, the London apothecary who was a neighbour and second cousin of my 9 x great grandfather, Aldgate stationer John Byne, left Mottynsden to his son Abraham. We gather from the will that John’s late brother Nicholas also had an interest in the property. This means that Mottynsden must have been left to the brothers by their father, Christopher Manser. It was probably included in the ‘lands lying in Burwashe’ left to Christopher and his heirs by John Manser in 1597.

So Mottynsden must have passed from the ownership of John Fawkner ‘the younger’ to my ancestor John Manser some time between 1589 and 1597, unless of course Christopher Manser acquired it in some other way after his father’s death. This connection makes it more likely that the John Fawkner of Higham Ferrers named in John Manser’s will had some link with the Fawkners of Waldron.

I’ve been unable to discover any more about the reason for the ‘extent’ taken out by the Crown against John Manser, or about the nature of the agreement between John Manser and John Fawkner.

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