Following on from yesterday’s post: I think I’ve made a major discovery about my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene (1626 – 1686), one that confirms his status as an important player in contemporary events and connects him with one of the most famous men of his time.

Old Trinity House in Water Lane, City of London

In his will of October 1685, signed and sealed three months before his death, William Greene writes as follows:

And I desire that my said Wife Elizabeth Green will att my funerall Give unto such and so many my Worthy Friends the Elder Brothers of the Trinity House (whereof I am a Member) whose Names are mentioned in a Note under my hand Delivered to my said Wife to each person a Ring to wear in Remembrance of me and to such other of my friends and Acquaintance that may be invited and be present att my funerall Gloves.

According to the Corporation’s own website, the origins of Trinity House date back to a charitable guild established by Archbishop Stephen Langton in the 12th century. The first royal charter was granted in 1514 by Henry VIII to a fraternity of mariners called the Guild of the Holy Trinity ‘so that they might regulate the pilotage of ships in the King’s streams’. At this time, the guild owned a great hall and almshouses close to the naval dockyard at Deptford on the River Thames. In 1604 James I conferred on Trinity House rights concerning compulsory pilotage of shipping and the exclusive right to license pilots in the Thames.

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)

There are frequent references to Trinity House in the diary of Samuel Pepys, which I’ve been reading recently with enormous pleasure. Pepys was secretary to the Navy Board under Charles II and in 1660 he was admitted as a Younger Brother of Trinity House. In 1685 Charles II died and his brother James ascended to the throne, being crowned on 23 April of that year. In that same year, James issued a new Royal Charter to Trinity House ‘for the government and increase of the navigation of England, and the relief of poor mariners, their widows and orphans, etc’.

The Charter seems to have been published in July 1685. According to another diarist, John Evelyn, writing on 20th July:

The Trinity Company met this day, which should have been on ye Monday after Trinity, but was put off by reason of the Royal Charter being so large that it could not be ready before. Some immunities were superadded…We went to church according to costome, and then took barge to the Trinity House, in London, where we had a great dinner, above 80 at one table.

In the Royal Charter, King James appointed thirty-one Elder Brethren, of whom one was to hold the office of Master, four to act as Wardens, and eight as Assistants. Samuel Pepys himself was appointed as Master, and the Charter continues:

And also We have assigned, nominated, constituted, and made, and by these Presents, for Us, our Heirs, and Successors, do assign, nominate, constitute, and make Captain John Nichols, Captain Henry Mudd, Captain Nicholas Kerrington, and Captain William Green, to be the four first and present Wardens of the said Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood

(my emphasis)

Can we be sure that this Captain William Green(e) was my ancestor, especially when he had at least one contemporary who shared his name and occupation? In his will, William Greene states that he is a ‘Member’ of Trinity House, which doesn’t necessarily mean he was an Elder Brother (the number of Younger Brethren was apparently unlimited). On the other hand, he refers to ‘my Worthy Friends the Elder Brothers of the Trinity House’. This reference, and the fact that he was a man of nearly sixty and therefore presumably a long-serving member, make it more likely that he too was an Elder Brother. And if so, then there is only one William Green among the thirty one names in the Royal Charter: Captain William Green, Warden. As for the other William Greene, mariner of Wapping: Trinity House doesn’t even get a mention in his will.

As additional confirmation, I’ve discovered that at least two of Captain Greene’s fellow wardens also lived in the Stepney area. Captain Henry Mudd was born in Limehouse in 1630, but lived in Ratcliffe, where he died in 1692 and was buried at St Dunstan’s church. He was obviously a man of some means, being the founder and benefactor of the charitable Trinity College or Hospital in Mile End Old Town. By the time he composed his will in 1692, Captain Mudd was able to describe himself as an ‘armiger’, or person entitled to use of a coat of arms. Captain Nicholas Kerrington lived in Wapping, but seems to have been originally from Suffolk. On his death in 1687 (a year after William Greene’s demise) he bequeathed substantial sums of money to the poor of various parishes in and around Ipswich.

It’s tempting to assume that one’s own ancestor must have been too humble or obscure to be counted in such august company. However, it’s worth remembering that on his death, Captain Greene was able to leave a number of houses to his son Joseph and wife Elizabeth. Moreover, if I’m right in my speculations about Elizabeth’s origins, then she would have inherited a number of properties in Stepney, Walthamstow and Surrey on the death of her first husband, John Elliott. Certainly, enough money was available to pay for Joseph Greene to be apprenticed in 1692 as a goldsmith, an occupation in which he in turn was able to prosper, to the extent that his widow could afford to purchase a manor house and estate in Essex on his death.

William Greene must have been rather proud to be selected as one of the four Wardens of Trinity House, even if he didn’t live for many months after his appointment. Sadly, Samuel Pepys discontinued his diary after 1670, and I’ve yet to find any reference to Captain Greene in its pages, or in his letters. However, perhaps it’s enough to see the name of one’s ancestor mentioned in the same document – and a Royal Charter at that – as such a notable historical figure.