The other day I was lamenting the fact that we don’t seem to have wills for any of the older sons of my 12 x great grandfather, Robert Maunser of Hightown in Wadhurst, Sussex, who died in 1592. I’ve been trying to find out who inherited Hightown from Robert: whether it was the William Maunser mentioned in the established pedigrees, but mysteriously not named in Robert’s will, or one of the sons referred to in that will, namely Robert junior, Thomas or George? My understanding is that Robert’s two younger sons, my 11 x great grandfather John Manser and his younger brother Abraham, either inherited or acquired other properties in or near Wadhurst.
There are extant wills for both John and Abraham Manser and today I want to consider whether these documents shed any light on the questions that still surround the Manser or Maunser pedigree, specifically in the closing years of the fifteenth century and the early decades of the seventeenth, coinciding with the last years of the reign of Elizabeth I.
Firstly, it’s worth reflecting on the evidence that these two men were, as I’ve been assuming, the sons of Robert Maunser of Hightown. Until recently my main source for the claim that John Manser was Robert’s son was Walter Renshaw’s history of the Byne family. On page 122 of that publication he states that on 22nd January 1611/2, Stephen Byne of Burwash married Mary, daughter of John Maunser of Wadhurst ‘who was a son of Robert Maunser of Hightown in that parish’. In a footnote, Renshaw refers to John’s will of December 1597, which certainly mentions a daughter named Mary. Until recently, there was no clear evidence linking John Manser, author of the 1597 will and father of Mary who married Stephen Byne, to Robert Maunser of Hightown. However, my recently revised transcription of John’s will and the discovery of Robert’s will have combined to change that situation. Having realised that the name of John’s brother-in-law, appointed as an overseer of his will, was William Snatt, and that the maiden name of John’s wife was therefore Jane Snatt, I noticed that the latter was also one of the witnesses to the will of Robert Maunser, probably because at the time she was engaged to be married to his son John. Taken together with other indirect evidence, this is enough to convince me that John Manser of Wadhurst, who died in 1598 and whose daughter Mary married Stephen Byne, was (as Renshaw claims) the son of Robert Maunser of Hightown.
When it comes to Abraham Manser, the connection is a little more difficult to prove. Once again, our starting-point is Renshaw, who states, in an appendix to his book about the Bynes, that the Abraham Manser who in December 1600 married Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of John Byne of Burwash, was ‘a son of Robert Manser of Hightown in Wadhurst’. Renshaw doesn’t mention the fact that John Byne’s youngest daughter, Anne, married another Manser: Christopher, the son of John Manser of Wadhurst, sister of Mary who married Stephen Byne, and (I believe) Abraham’s nephew. I want to return to Christopher Manser, his family, and his connection with the Bynes, on another occasion.
Renshaw mentions Abraham Manser’s will, dated 8th March 1626, with a codicil dated 11th April 1627, which I transcribed and analysed a year ago. Abraham’s will contains no definitive evidence linking him to Robert Maunser of Hightown. The only evidence appears to be circumstantial: we know that Robert had a son named Abraham, who is also mentioned in his brother John’s will, and whose dates would seem to fit with the person who married Elizabeth Byne in 1600 and made his will in 1626. More significantly, Abraham’s will reveals him to be the owner of the estate know as Wenbourne or Wenbans in Wadhurst, which we know to have been in the possession of the Maunsers of Hightown, certainly in the lifetime of my 13 x great grandfather Christopher Maunser who died in 1546, bequeathing the property to his widow Joan.
However, if the evidence connecting Abraham with Robert Maunser is inconclusive, then his will certainly contains strong suggestions of a link with the later Hightown Maunsers. Abraham appoints three men as ‘my faithful and trustie overseers’: ‘my beloved kinsmen Nicholas Manser of Wadhurst aforesaid Stephen Byne of Burwash and Henrie Gregorie of Lynton in Kent yeomen’. It’s difficult to tell from the original manuscript whether ‘kinsmen’ is singular or plural. If my speculations are correct, then my 10 x great grandfather Stephen Byne was certainly a relative of Abraham Manser’s: Stephen was married to Mary Manser, whom I believe to have been Abraham’s niece, while Abraham’s father-in-law John Byne was almost certainly related to Stephen, even if the precise nature of that relationship has yet to be established. As for Henry Gregorie, I’ve yet to discover anything significant about him. However, the reference to Nicholas Manser as a kinsman is highly significant. We read later in the will that Nicholas was not only a witness to the will but its ‘scriptor’ – i.e. its writer or scribe.
We know of five Nicholas Mansers who were alive in the first half of the seventeenth century. They were Nicholas Manser, owner of Hightown, who was probably born around 1590 and who died in 1653/4; his son Nicholas, who may have been born in about 1605 and might have married Martha Fuller in 1637; the first Nicholas Manser’s grandson, the son of his eldest son Thomas, who would inherit Hightown and die in 1674; another grandson, the son of Nicholas’ son Herbert, who would also become one of the later owners of Hightown; and Nicholas, the son of Christopher Manser, the latter being (I believe) the son of my 11 x great grandfather John Manser, and therefore (if my theory is correct) the nephew of Abraham Manser.
We can dismiss the last Nicholas at once, since he and his father were both of Burwash, not Wadhurst: Nicholas would live at Mottynsden in Burwash. More importantly, I don’t think this particular Nicholas Manser would be born until about 1645. I believe that the Nicholas, son of Thomas Manser, who died in 1674 was still a young man when he died, and was probably not born before about 1650. Since Herbert Manser did not marry until 1643 then this can’t be his son Nicholas. That leaves the first Nicholas Manser of Hightown and his second son. However I don’t believe the younger Nicholas came of age until the early 1630s. In other words, when Abraham Manser wrote his will there would have been only one ‘Nicholas Manser of Wadhurst’ – and that was the owner of Hightown.
The fact that Nicholas acted as both overseer and scribe of Abraham’s will suggests a close familial relationship. If the established pedigrees are correct and Nicholas’ father (William?) was indeed a son of Robert Maunser of Hightown, then Abraham would have been his uncle. However, the fact that Abraham was Robert’s youngest son, and Nicholas his own father’s eldest child, would have meant that the two were quite close in age – only nine years separate their likely marriage dates – and perhaps more like cousins than uncle and nephew.
But Nicholas isn’t the only Manser mentioned in Abraham’s will. He bequeaths to his daughter Ellen ‘the whole proffitts and rents of all my landes lying in Maifield being nowe in the occupacion of Abraham Manser my kinsman’. Is this the same Abraham Manser who witnessed the codicil appended to the will? Or is that ‘Jun’ (for ‘Junior’) after his name? The other witnesses are John Manser and Robert Wenborne. I’m having some difficulty identifying these men. Abraham Manser might be one of the sons of Nicholas of Hightown, though as the fourth and youngest son I imagined he would still be a child at this time. Christopher Manser of Burwash had a son named Abraham, and an older son named John, but once again their birth dates are much too late. There was an Abraham Manser who was a miller in Wadhurst and died in 1656, but I have no clue as to his connection to the Mansers of Hightown.
When I originally transcribed Abraham Manser’s will, I believed that the John Manser who witnessed the codicil was his brother, my 11 x great grandfather. But that was before I discovered John’s will and realised that he had died in 1598. The only other John Manser that I know of is the person who features in the established pedigrees, where he is described as a younger brother of Nicholas of Hightown, as having married Mary Cole, daughter of Aston, an event that we know to have taken place in Lewes in 1614/5, and as being ‘of Southwark’. Perhaps he had a son named Abraham, but the Southwark location seems to make that unlikely.
Another possibility is that the Abraham Manser and/or John Manser who witnessed the codicil were sons of Robert, Thomas or George (the older brothers of Abraham Manser of Wenbourne) who are named in the will of their father, Robert Maunser of Hightown. This would make them (like Nicholas Manser of Hightown) nephews of Abraham’s: but again, because he was the youngest of Robert’s sons, they might have been quite close to him in age. It’s extremely frustrating that we don’t have birth, marriage or burial records for Robert Maunser’s sons, or baptismal records for his grandchildren. There seems to be a gaping hole in the Wadhurst parish records…