Another look at Nicholas Maunser of Hightown (died 1653)

In recent posts I’ve been revisiting the Maunser or Manser family of Hightown in Wadhurst, Sussex, in an attempt to clarify some puzzling aspects of their pedigree. My own connection to the family is as follows. Robert Maunser of Hightown, who died in 1592, was my 12 x great grandfather. His younger son, John Manser of Wadhurst, who died in 1598, had a daughter Mary who married Stephen Byne of Burwash: they were my 10 x great grandparents.

View towards Wadhurst Park (site of Hightown), via geograph

View towards Wadhurst Park (site of Hightown), via geograph

The established pedigrees of the Maunser family claim that Robert Maunser had an older son, William, who inherited Hightown. As I’ve noted in recent posts, the discovery of Robert’s will casts doubt on this, since there is no mention in it of a son named William. There may be a good reason why William was left out: the will bequeaths very little in the way of property and it’s possible the transfer of ownership of Hightown had already been dealt with elsewhere. An alternative explanation is that the pedigrees have got it wrong, and that Robert’s heir bore a different name: besides John, his will also mentions sons named Thomas, George and Abraham. Or both theories may be wrong, and there may be a missing generation in the Maunser pedigree which awaits discovery.

Whichever of these explanations turns out be correct, it seems fairly clear, as I noted in the previous post, that the next owner of Hightown after William (or whatever his name turns out to be) was Nicholas Maunser, who made his will in 1653. Not only that, but there is increasing evidence that Nicholas’ father (whether William or another Maunser) was married to a daughter (probably Mary) of Nicholas Fowle of Rotherfield, and indeed that he was probably named after him. (Nicholas Fowle was a descendant of his namesake, who was my 14 x great grandfather – since his great grand-daughter Agnes Fowle married Edward Byne, the father of Stephen Byne mentioned above.)  If Nicholas Fowle’s will of 1599 is to be believed, then Nicholas Maunser had two siblings, John and Mary, whose names match those in the accepted Maunser pedigrees.

Extrapolating backwards from Nicholas Maunser’s own will of 1653, we can hazard a guess at some key dates in his life, and this may offer some help in solving the mystery of his origins. The only definite dates we have for Nicholas’ own life are the day on which he made his will, 20th December 1653, and the date on which it was proved, 17th February 1653/4, in the third year of the Cromwellian Commonwealth, together with one or two dates attached to documents relating to land ownership to be found in the National Archives. However, by tracing the trajectories of the surviving children mentioned in his will, we can perhaps fill in some of the missing detail of Nicholas’ biography.

We know from his will that Nicholas had four surviving sons – Thomas, Nicholas, Herbert and Abraham, in that order – and two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary. We have a definite marriage date for the third son, Herbert, who married Sarah Haffenden in 1643. This means that he must have been born by the early 1620s, thus placing the birth dates of his two older brothers, Thomas and Nicholas, before that. From a document in the National Archives, we know that Thomas was already married to his wife, Susan, by 1646. Similarly, we know that Nicholas’ daughter Elizabeth must have married David Leader, a London mercer, by 1640, since their first child, David, was born in the following year. Recently I also came across a record of the marriage of Nicholas Maunser, junior, of Wadhurst, yeoman, to Martha Fuller of Mayfield, a widow, which took place in 1637.

All of this points to the Maunser children being born between about 1610 and the early 1620s, with perhaps the younger son Abraham being born after that date.  According to the established pedigrees, Nicholas married a woman named Elizabeth. However, at the time of writing his will in 1653 his wife’s name was Sarah: this was almost certainly a second marriage. If Nicholas is not the Nicholas Maunser who married Elizabeth Hepden in Rye in 1609, then I suggest his first marriage must have taken place at around this time, to fit with the likely birth dates of his children.

This means that Nicholas Maunser must have been born by 1590 and probably before. It would be helpful to know when Nicholas inherited Hightown from his father, whatever his name was. There are documents from 1646 and 1650 which describe him as ‘of Hightown’, but I suspect he took ownership at a much earlier date. Another document in the National Archives refers to a sale of property to Nicholas Maunser of Hightown in 1629 and claims that Nicholas ‘did fealty to the manor of Ittington’ in 1630. We know that Robert Maunser was ‘of Hightown’ when he made his will in 1592, so presumably his son would have inherited the property at that point, while Nicholas was still a child. Nicholas’ father (William?) must have died, and Nicholas come into his inheritance, either in the 1590s or in the early decades of the new century.

It’s frustrating that we don’t seem to have a will for ‘William’, or for any of the older sons of Robert Maunser. However, the wills of his two younger sons, John and Abraham, may offer more insights into the tangled branches of the Manser family tree, and I’ll be revisiting them in another post.

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