Reflections on the 1545 will of Christopher Maunser

Yesterday I posted a transcription of the will of my 13 x great grandfather Christopher Maunser of Hightown, Wadhurst, in Sussex, who died in 1545/6. In this post, I’ll examine what the will can tell us about Christopher and his family.

Local map showing location of Hightown in Wadhurst Park, Sussex

Local map showing location of Hightown in Wadhurst Park, Sussex

We learn from the will that Christopher’s wife Joan was still alive when it was written. However, since we know from other sources that Christopher married Mildred Barham, Joan must have been his second wife. There’s evidence of the first marriage in the name of one of Christopher’s daughters, and it’s possible that all four of the children named in the will were the result of that marriage. The Barhams were an old Sussex family whose history overlaps with that of my ancestors at a number of points, but to date I haven’t been able to discover how Mildred fits into their family tree.

According to his will, Christopher Maunser had three daughters and one son. Mildred was already married to Robert Wenbourne, who seems to have been the son of John Wenbourne of Wadhurst. There is a link between this family and the ‘tenement’ called Wenborn or Wenbans which Christopher bequeaths to his wife Joan. This property would later pass to Christopher’s grandson Abraham Manser (brother of my 11 x great grandfather John).

Wenbans, or Wenbourne, in 2008 (via

Wenbans, or Wenbourne, in 2008 (via

Christopher’s daughter Maryan appears to have been unmarried at the time of her father’s death, while we gather that her sister Elizabeth was probably married to John Thorpe. I’ve tracked down Thorpe’s will – he died in 1552 – and it confirms that this was indeed the case. Not only that, but by the time John Thorpe died, he and Elizabeth had five children: Christopher, George, Edward, Mildred and ‘Betterys’ (Beatrice?). Mildred was not of age when her father died, while Christopher was old enough to be appointed executor, suggesting that his parents had been married for more than twenty years, which places Elizabeth Maunser’s probable date of birth some time in the 1510s. John Thorpe appoints ‘my brother Wenborne’ as overseer of his will: presumably this is his brother-in-law Robert, married to his wife’s sister Mildred. Although Thorpe does not mention his place of residence, his will was witnessed by  ‘John Bayly preste’, who in other records is said to be of the parish of Wadhurst.

Christopher Maunser’s own will is also witnessed by a priest – ‘Sr Thomas Hothe’ (see my note in an earlier post on the use of ‘sir’ as an honorific title for priests in medieval and Tudor times). I can’t find Hoth in the Anglican clergy records, but Hoth or Hoath was a common Sussex name and there was a family of that name in the Wadhurst area at this period. The same priest would witness the will of John Wenbourne, Robert Wenborne’s father, just over a year later.

As for the other people mentioned in Christopher’s will, William Barham, another of the witnesses, was no doubt a relative of his late wife Mildred, while George Darrell, appointed as the will’s overseer, was probably a member of the family that owned a number of properties in Sussex and Kent, including Scotney Castle in Lamberhurst, and later in the century would include some famous Catholic recusants among their number.


George Darrell may have been the person of that name who was Member of Parliament for East Grinstead and Lewes between 1547 and 1554. A Gray’s Inn lawyer, Darrell was the son of Thomas Darrell of Scotney Castle. His father, also a lawyer, was a legal adviser to Sir John Gage of West Firle, Sussex, a courtier and another prominent Catholic, whose patronage may have assisted George’s parliamentary career.


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