What can the will of Nicholas Manser of Hightown, Wadhurst, who died in 1674, tell us about him and his family? To begin with the trivial: the will confirms that the spellings ‘Manser’ and ‘Maunser’ were fairly interchangeable within the family. Many of the people referred to here as ‘Manser’ were ‘Maunser’ in the earlier will of another Nicholas of Hightown, who died in 1653. Both spellings even occur within the same document: in this will, Nicholas (or the scrivener) spells his name ‘Manser’ throughout, but he signs himself ‘Maunser’ at the end.

Old map of East Sussex

Old map of East Sussex

More importantly, Nicholas Manser’s will provides vital clues about his identity and where he fits into the family tree. Nicholas mentions three of his uncles in the will: Nicholas, Herbert and Abraham Manser. These were the second, third and fourth sons, respectively, of the Nicholas Maunser of Hightown who died in 1653. The eldest son was Thomas Manser, and the assumption has to be that Nicholas, the author of this 1674 will, was his son. Since Thomas was the heir of the first Nicholas, it makes sense that his own son Nicholas would in turn become his heir and inherit Hightown. Not only that, but the younger Nicholas refers to ‘my mother Susan Manser’ and we know from at least one archival document that this was the name of Thomas’ wife.

Nicholas’ will of 1674 also extends our knowledge of later branches of the Manser family tree. We learn that his uncle Abraham Manser has two sons, Abraham and Thomas, and that his uncle Herbert Manser has a son named Nicholas. We also discover that his uncle Nicholas has a son named Francis, described as a ‘clerk’, or cleric. Apparently Francis Maunser, the son of Nicholas Maunser of Battle, Sussex matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford, on 17th December 1663 when he was 18 years old, meaning that he was born in about 1645. He proceeded to the degree of BA in 1667.

Further confirmation of Nicholas’ identity is provided by his reference to Robert and Mary Wat(s), the children of his aunt, whose Christian name is omitted. I think it most likely that this is a reference to Mary, daughter of the 1653 Nicholas, who married Giles Watts, mercer. Robert is almost certainly the person of that name who is described in a document of 1687 as an executor (together with a certain John Maunser) of his father’s will, and as a draper living in Battle, Sussex.

I’m not sure about the identity of Nicholas’ ‘cosen’, another Nicholas Manser, said to be the son of Christopher Manser. As we know, the definition of ‘cousin’ could be quite flexible in seventeenth-century wills, so we shouldn’t assume that Christopher was yet another uncle of Nicholas’. We know about two Christopher Ma(u)nsers. One was the owner of Hightown who was alive during the reign of Henry VIII: he was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of the Nicholas who composed his will in 1674. The other Christopher was the brother of my 10 x great grandmother, Mary Maunser. Christopher and Mary were the children of John Maunser of Wadhurst, younger brother of the William Maunser who inherited Hightown. This Christopher would have been an actual first cousin of the Nicholas Maunser of Hightown who died in 1653, and thus his children would have been second cousins to Thomas, father of the Nicholas who died in 1674. I suspect that the dates for this Christopher Maunser are too early, and that a different Christopher is meant, but I can’t be sure. Similarly, I’m not sure who ‘my cosen’ Mary Causten or Causton was or how she was related to Nicholas.

One of the witnesses to the will is Henry Goldsmith. He is probably the person of that name who was the only son of another Henry Goldsmith, gentleman and churchwarden of Burwash, who died in 1632. The elder Henry’s wife bore the unusual, but distinctly Puritan name of Faintnot. She was the third daughter of John Byne who died in 1614. John’s eldest daughter Elizabeth was married to Abraham Manser, who died in 1627, and who was, according to Walter Charles Renshaw’s history of the Byne family, a son of Robert Maunser of Hightown. Renshaw seems unsure how this John Byne fits into the Byne family tree.

Nicholas Manser’s will also mentions ‘my cosen Edward Polhill’, and the latter is also a witness to the memorandum appended to the will. The Polhills were another old Sussex family, listed in the collection of pedigrees published in 1830. There are a number of Edward Polhills in the pedigree chart, but Renshaw reminds us that Edward Polhill and John Polhill also witnessed the will of my 10 x great grandfather Stephen Byne of Burwash, who died in 1664. According to Renshaw, Edward and John were the sons of Thomas Polhill and his wife Faintnot (there’s that name again: just a coincidence?). Apparently Edward was the eldest son, born in 1617. He was a justice of the peace and ‘the author of some religious works’.

edward polhill book cover

This latter statement seems too modest, if other sources are to be believed. A history of the Polhill family describes Edward as ‘a very eminent man’ and quotes from a preface to one of his works which calls him ‘a very learned gentleman….of very great esteem among all men of his own county’. A different source agrees that Edward Polhill was a ‘justice of the peace in Burwash, where he owned considerable estates’ but claims that he was born in  1622, the son of a clergyman of the same name from Kent. This source, which states that he died in 1694, ranks Polhill as one of the most important Puritan writers. An interesting analysis of Polhill’s writings and theological opinions can be found here. The connection with Edward Polhill would seem to be further evidence of the Manser family’s Puritan sympathies.

Finally, the fact that Nicholas Manser does not mention a wife or any children in his will, and leaves most of his property to his mother and cousins, suggests that he died without issue – and probably at quite a young age. This would also explain why there are only twenty-one years between the death of his great-grandfather in 1653 and his own demise. The most significant item in the will is Nicholas’ bequest of Hightown itself to his cousin, another Nicholas Manser, the son of his uncle Herbert. As for what became of the family property in subsequent years, I plan to write about that in another post.