Revisiting the early generations of the Manser family of Wadhurst

My fellow researcher Bill Green has been investigating the connections between the Manser (or Maunser) and Fowle families of Sussex in the 16th century, and this has inspired me to revisit the earlier Manser generations. What do we know for certain about my ancestors, the Mansers of Wadhurst?

Wadhurst Park, location of Hightown

Wadhurst Park, location of Hightown

According to one source, the property known as Hightown in Wadhurst was first mentioned in a subsidy roll of 1295, though it’s unclear who the owners were at this time. However, the same source notes that, two centuries later, in 1483, Hightown was the home of Sir Robert Maunser, ‘a substantial landowner’ – and my 15 x great grandfather. It is with this person that the Ma(u)nser lineage in William Berry’s Sussex pedigrees (based on the Heralds’ visitations) begins. According to this document, Sir Robert was alive in 1483, during the time of Richard III (whose brief reign lasted from 1483-85). It seems likely that he was born in the 1450s.

Apparently Sir Robert Maunser and his wife Margaret had two sons, Walter and John. The latter died during his father’s lifetime, but not before fathering a son named Thomas, who is said to have lived at Uckfield, about seventeen miles from Wadhurst. He in turn had a son, also named Thomas. In 1570, a property later known as Bridge Cottage in Uckfield was said to be occupied by Thomas Maunser, grandson or great grandson of Sir Robert Maunser. This is almost certainly the ‘Thomas Manser sonne of Thomas Manser’ who was left money in the 1545 will of my 13 x great grandfather Christopher Manser: Thomas the younger would have been Christopher’s second cousin. Interestingly, in 1584 the same property was in the possession of Arthur Langworth of Buxted – almost certainly the person of that name referred to dismissively in the 1595 will of my ancestor Magnus Fowle.

Sir Robert Maunser’s eldest son, Walter Maunser of Hightown, my 14 x great grandfather, was said to have been alive during the reign of Henry VII (i.e. between 1485 and 1509). He was probably born some time in the 1470s. The name of his wife is unknown, and the only child of his that we know about is his heir, Christopher Manser. Christopher, who was alive during the reign of Henry VIII, married Mildred Barham and, secondly, a woman named Joan. His will of 1545 mentions these children:

- Robert, who was already of age when his father died, so was probably born around 1525.

- Mildred, who was already married to Robert Wenborne in 1545, so was probably born 1520-25.

- Elizabeth, who was already married to John Thorpe when her father died and had five children by the time her husband died in 1552, so was probably married in the 1530s and born in the 1510s.

- Maryan, unmarried when her father wrote his will, so perhaps born after 1530.

All of this points to Christopher Manser having been born some time in the 1490s.

According to Berry, Robert Manser, my 12 x great grandfather, who inherited Hightown from his father Christopher, married Joan Rootes of Marshalls (which I think was in Uckfield), though Wace’s 1923 history of Wadhurst claims that he married ‘a Fowle of Rotherfield’. Berry’s pedigree gives Robert two surviving sons: William, the eldest, who inherited Hightown and married Mary Fowle, daughter of Nicholas Fowle of Rotherfield, and John, my 11 x great grandfather.

Another account of the Heralds’ visitations, published in 1905, states that William Manser’s wife Mary was in fact the daughter of Thomas Hobden of ‘Burrish’ (Burwash); that John Manser lived in Southwark and married Mary Cole; and that Robert Manser also had a daughter Mary who married Thomas Scotson. However, I believe that this version of the pedigree mistakenly transposes information from the next generation: John Manser of Southwark and Mary Manser who married Thomas Scotson were (as Berry has it) the children of William Manser of Hightown, not his siblings. Bill Green also believes that, if William did indeed marry Mary Fowle (and not Mary Hobden), then she was the daughter of Anthony Fowle, not Nicholas.

This confusing picture has been made all the more bewildering by the information to be gleaned from the 1592 will of Robert Manser of Hightown, which I saw today for the first time. Another fellow researcher, Ed Rydahl Taylor, has kindly sent me a copy of the document, which I’m in the process of transcribing. From what I’ve seen so far, it challenges much of the received information about Robert and his family. I’ll say more in another post.

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