Earlier this year I reported my discovery of two very similar marriage bonds or allegations, both from the year 1677 and both involving widowers named William Greene, both of whom were from the parish of Stepney, and both of whom proposed to marry widows named Elizabeth.

Of the two, it seemed that one was rather more likely than the other to relate to my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe. This document (see above) announced that William Greene, a widower ‘aged 50 yeares or thereabouts’ planned to marry Elizabeth Elliott ‘a widow of ye same place aged 35 or thereabouts’. It was dated ’20 Marty 1676/7’. Taking this as a starting-point, I speculated that Elizabeth was probably the widow of John Elliott, a propertied house carpenter who died in 1674. The fact that he lived in Ratcliffe and that he mentioned his wife Elizabeth in his will seemed to provide confirmation.

We already knew that, at the time he wrote his will in 1685, the name of Captain Greene’s wife was Elizabeth. We also knew that Elizabeth was the mother of William Greene’s youngest son Joseph (my 7 x great grandfather). And since the age on William’s tombstone in Stepney churchyard appeared to be 60, then he would certainly have been 50 years old (‘or thereabouts’) in 1677.

However, a niggling doubt remained in my mind. The basis of this uncertainty was the date of Joseph Greene’s birth. He was christened at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 14th March 1677, the parish register (see above) stating that he had been born 22 days earlier (i.e. around 22nd February). Although the precise meaning of the date ’20 Marty 1676/7′ on the marriage bond for William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott was unclear, it seemed to suggest that the couple might have been married in March 1677, i.e. after the birth of Joseph Greene.

However, I have recently returned to the records, and at the same time improved my understanding of 17th century dating methods, with the result that I am now more confident that Elizabeth Elliott was indeed the second wife of Captain William Greene. If we look at the page in the St Dunstan’s parish register that records the christening of Joseph Greene (see above), we can see that it is headed ‘Christnings [sic] Anno Dni. 1677’ – and that most of the page is taken up with baptisms in March of that year. However, if we then turn to the next page in the register (see below), we can see that it is headed ‘Anno Dni. 1678’, despite the fact that the listing for March is continued from the previous page.

The explanation lies in the fact that, until 1752, England still used the old Julian calendar, despite much of Europe having transferred to the Gregorian calendar in 1582. According to the Julian calendar, the new year – certainly for civil or legal purposes – began not on 1st January but on 25th March. This means that in our terms, Joseph Greene was actually christened on 14th March 1678. The curious dating of the marriage bond for William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott – ’20 Marty 1676/7’ – was apparently a common way of expressing the difference between ‘old style’ and ‘new style’ forms of dating. I take it to mean that, although the document was issued on 20th March 1676 according to the Julian calendar, if we were using the Gregorian calendar in which the year had begun three months earlier, then the date would actually be 1677. We are told that the couple’s marriage is ‘shortly to be solemnized’. If this turned out to be the case, then it would have been perfect timing for a child (Joseph) to be born in the following February – i.e. eleven months after the marriage allegation was published. At 35 or so years of age, Elizabeth would still have been of childbearing age, though (given the advancing ages of both parties) it seems fitting that Joseph would be their only child.

Parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

To sum up: my improved understanding of the 17th century calendar, when taken together with everything else we know about William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott, certainly makes it possible, and in fact highly likely, that they were my ancestors. Does it make it absolutely certain? Perhaps not. But, in the manner of American TV announcers on election night, I am now prepared to ‘call’ Elizabeth Elliott as my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother.

So what do we know about my newly-confirmed ancestor? If the age given on the marriage allegation is more or less correct, and Elizabeth was about 35 years old at the time of her marriage to William Greene, then she was born in about 1641 or 1642, at the height of the English Civil War. She married John Elliott, a carpenter from Ratcliffe Highway, at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 11th May 1656, during the period of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. John was 30 years old (i.e. born in 1626, the same year as Elizabeth’s second husband, William Greene) while Elizabeth is described in the parish register as a ‘maide’. In fact, if my calculations are correct, Elizabeth would only have been about 14 or 15 years old at the time of her marriage. (The minimum legal age for women at this time was 12, and 14 for men.)

Elizabeth’s maiden name was Leete and according to the parish register, she came from Wapping Wall. However, to date I haven’t managed to find a record of her birth or baptism. Elizabeth’s age at the time of her marriage may account for the fact that she and John appear not to have had any children until 1659, when their son Thomas was born.  Thomas, son of John Elliott of Ratcliffe, house carpenter, and his wife Elizabeth, was christened at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 27th March of that year. He died a little over a year later and was buried at the same church on 14th July 1660, two months after the restoration of the monarchy in England.

John and Elizabeth Elliott would have three more children over the next seven years, all of whom would die in infancy. Elizabeth was christened on 24th May 1663 and buried on 5th July 1668. Mary was christened on 15th May 1665 and buried on 16th August 1666. John was christened on 5 May 1667; although I’ve yet to find a record of his burial, he must have died by 1672 since he is not mentioned in his father’s will.  If I’ve found the correct will (and all the other details match: it is written by John Elliott, a house carpenter from Ratcliffe whose wife is named Elizabeth), then John and Elizabeth must have had a second daughter named Elizabeth after the first one died in 1668. A child of that name is the only one named by John in his will: he leaves her a number of houses or tenements. The other possibility is that she was John’s daughter from an earlier marriage (remember that he was 30 when he married Elizabeth Leete), but is it likely that he would give two daughters the same Christian name? To date, I’ve been unable to find any definite records for the younger Elizabeth Elliott.

John Elliott died in 1674 at the age of 48 and was buried at St Dunstan’s on 25th March. His widow Elizabeth, by now aged about 32 and with a young daughter, was named as the executrix of her late husband’s estate and bequeathed properties of her own, besides (presumably) overseeing those left to her daughter until she came of age.

Parish church of St Paul, Shadwell

Elizabeth Elliott née Leete would have lived as a widow for three years before she married William Greene. Their marriage allegation (drawn up by Thomas Sumerly, the Shadwell scrivener who was also a friend, and beneficiary of the will of John Elliott) states that William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott plan to marry ‘in ye parish Church of St Bartholomew the Lesse of St Paul Shadwell’. Since St Bartholomew the Less was in the City of London, I believe that ‘of’ must be a mistake for ‘or’. St Paul’s was probably Elizabeth’s ‘home’ parish, but I have no idea why the couple also contemplated marrying in a city church.

I’ve yet to find a record of their marriage at either place, or indeed anywhere else. However, I have found a curious record in the parish register of St Botolph’s, Aldgate. On 7th February 1677, William Greene, a bachelor, and Elizabeth Leate, a widow, ‘both of Wapping’ were married there. Once again, this was February 1677 according to the old, Julian calendar – in other words, 1678 by our reckoning. For this to be the ‘right’ marriage, we would have to accept several errors in the record: William’s ‘bachelor’ status, the use of Elizabeth maiden name rather than her first married name, and the claim that William as well as Elizabeth was from Wapping rather than neighbouring Ratcliffe. And this marriage would certainly not fit with Joseph Greene being born a few weeks later. But if this William Greene and Elizabeth Leate are not my ancestors, then who are they?


I’ve now searched the parish register of St Paul’s, Shadwell, for the years 1676-8, without finding any trace of a marriage between William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott. Unfortunately, the records for St Bartholomew-the-Less are missing for these years, so perhaps we will never know when and where my 8 x great grandparents were married.

Second footnote

I’ve just found a burial record for Elizabeth Elliott, daughter of Elizabeth Elliott of Ratcliffe, widow. She was buried at St Dunstan’s, Stepney on 12th July, 1674, just over three months after the death of her father John. I suppose this means that all of the properties bequeathed to her in her father’s will would automatically pass to her mother.