In the process of exploring the last will and testament of John Lucke of Mayfield, Sussex, who died in 1549, I had cause to look again at the will of Christopher Maunser of Hightown, Wadhurst, who died four years earlier: this was because the Wenborne family was mentioned in both wills. Christopher Maunser or Manser was my 13 x great grandfather; his son Robert had a son named John, who was the father of Mary Manser who married Stephen Byne of Burwash: they were my 10 x great grandparents.

Christopher Maunser’s will shares a number of common features with that of his contemporary and near neighbour John Lucke. Both men begin their wills by bequeathing their souls ‘to almighty God, our lady Saint Mary and all the (glorious) company of heaven’. In my discussion of John Lucke’s will I cited this preamble as evidence of continuing attachment to Catholicism, despite the religious changes wrought during the latter years of the reign of Henry VIII, who died in 1547. However, a discovery that I made yesterday has undermined this conclusion, certainly in the case of Christopher Maunser.

Protestant preaching in the early 16th century (via

Protestant preaching in the early 16th century (via

In my original discussion of Christopher’s will, almost a year ago, I remarked on the fact that a certain ‘Sir Thomas Hothe, preste’ was among the witnesses to the document. I noted that the same man would also witness the will of John Wenbourne, who was probably the father-in-law of Christopher Maunser’s daughter Mildred, just over a year later. I also mentioned that I’d been unable to find Hothe in any clergy records, despite Hothe or Hoth being a fairly common name in that part of Sussex at the time. But yesterday I came across a source that appears to solve the mystery of Thomas Hoth’s identity.

In a chapter on ‘Richard Woodman, Sussex Protestantism and the Construction of Marytrdom’ in Art, Literature and Religion in Early Modern Sussex: Culture and Conflict (Ashgate, 2014), Paul Quinn of the University of Chichester mentions a Thomas Hoth who was formerly the precentor of the Augustinian New Priory in Hastings, but in 1533 was charged ‘with rejecting purgatory, tithes and payment on the four offering days, and of supporting clerical marriage, a vernacular translation of the New Testament, and justification by faith’. It’s possible that the same Thomas Hoth went on to become an itinerant protestant preacher and that he may have radicalised a number of the Sussex martyrs who died during Queen Mary’s reign. Quinn also suggests that Hoth may himself have suffered for his beliefs, perhaps being identical with the Thomas Ahoth who is listed in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. (Hoth’s story is a reminder that a number of the early protestant preachers – including Martin Luther himself – were former monks, and that I should perhaps be cautious in assuming that my probable ancestor Thomas Lucke, rector of Litlington, who died in 1551 and may have been a member of another former Augustinian priory, at Michelham, necessarily retained Catholic sympathies.)

The burning of Richard Woodman and other protestant martyrs in Lewes in 1557

The burning of Richard Woodman and other protestant martyrs at Lewes in 1557

Paul Quinn connects Thomas Hoth with the burgeoning protestant community in East Grinstead, just twenty miles from Wadhurst. It’s possible that, as an intinerant preacher proselytising for the new faith, Hoth visited a number of East Sussex parishes and the fact of his witnessing Christopher Maunser’s and John Wenborne’s wills could be evidence that they were among his converts. If so, then the use of a traditional Catholic preamble in Christopher Maunser’s will may provide an interesting example of a transitional phase between old and new forms of piety. Of course, as I’ve noted before, it’s important to remember the formulaic and conventional character of will preambles. At the same time, it’s probably significant that Maunser’s will includes none of the traditional bequests for altar lights to be found in John Lucke’s will, or the requests for masses to be said for his soul that occur in the will of another of my 13 x great grandfathers, Gabriel Fowle of Southover, who died ten years after him.

In previous posts I’ve expressed my curiosity about those of my ancestors who appeared to hold on to their Catholic faith – whether openly, like Gabriel Fowle, or apparently covertly, like his son Magnus (my 12 x great grandfather) – through the successive religious revolutions of the sixteenth century. But I’m also fascinated by the process by which most of my Sussex forbears gradually moved away from the beliefs of their forefathers, so that by the mid-seventeenth century many of them were out-and-out Calvinists and Puritans. This flickering glimpse of the life of the Thomas Hoth, renegade priest and itinerant preacher, may provide some insight into the first steps in that journey.