In the last post I reported my discovery that John Littleton, the first husband of my ancestor Elizabeth Boulton, was the brother of Humphrey Littleton of Naunton, Worcestershire, who died in 1690. I also shared what I’d been able to discover about this particular branch of the illustrious Littleton family, tracing them back to Roger Littleton, one of the sons of John Littleton of Frankley, who purchased the property in the early sixteenth century. (N.B. The spelling of the family name varies between individuals and generations – sometimes ‘Littleton,’ at others ‘Lyttelton’. For simplicity, I’ve kept to the former spelling.)
However, at that stage I was unable to connect the Littletons of Naunton with the other branches of the family. In particular, I was interested to know whether there was any connection between the various Humphrey Littletons of Naunton – and the Humphrey Littleton who was executed at Worcester in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. And what was the link between the John Littleton of Frankley who was the father of Roger Littleton, and his namesake, also of Frankley, who was implicated in the Earl of Essex’s rebellion and died in the Tower of London in 1601?
After a few days of intense searching, and a few false starts, I think I’ve managed to untangle the complex web that is the Littleton family history – or at least the relevant part of it. I’ve discovered that the John Littleton of Frankley who bought Naunton was born in about 1500 and died in 1533. For the sake of clarity, we’ll call him John Littleton (1). He was married to Elizabeth, daughter of Gilbert Talbot of Grafton, and they had seven sons and two daughters.
One of their sons was Roger Littleton of Groveley, from whom the Littletons of Naunton are descended. Roger, who took over the ownership of Naunton from his father and brothers, had at least three sons: George, Francis and Humphrey. As I noted in the previous post, Naunton passed first to Roger’s son George, then to William, son of Francis, and then to Humphrey (again, to keep things clear, we’ll call him Humphrey Littleton (1)).
Humphrey Littleton (1) married a woman named Margaret and they had a son called Edward, who inherited Naunton on his father’s death in 1624. Edward, who seems to have been married to a woman named Amy, had a son named Humphrey (we’ll call him Humphrey Littleton (2)), who was born in 1633, the year before his father’s death. Humphrey Littleton (2) had three children: his eldest son and heir Humphrey, John (who married Elizabeth Boulton) and Margaret. He died in 1665.
Humphrey Littleton (3) married a woman named Elizabeth and died in 1690. It was through researching the legal battle over his will that I uncovered the connection between him and the John Littleton who married Elizabeth Boulton.
Now, to understand the Naunton Littletons’ relationship to the wider Littleton family, we need to go back a few generations to John Littleton (1) of Frankley, the father of Roger. Roger had an older brother, John, who inherited his father’s estate as well as his name. This John Littleton (2) was knighted, probably by Elizabeth I. He married Bridget Pakington, daughter of Sir John Pakington of Hampton-Levet (I wrote about a later member of this family in an earlier post). Sir John Littleton lived at Frankley but owned many other properties, including the manor of Hagley. He died in 1591.
Sir John and Bridget Littleton had six sons and four daughters. Their eldest son Gilbert Littleton inherited Frankley and married Elizabeth, daughter of Humphrey Coningsby. Gilbert and Elizabeth’s son and heir was yet another John Littleton (3). He married Meriel, daughter of Sir Thomas Bromley, the Lord Chancellor of England. It was this John Littleton who was implicated in Essex’s rebellion and was sentenced to death, though his sentence was commuted to imprisonment in the Tower and loss of his estates. John was a Catholic, but his wife Meriel did not share his faith and after his death in 1601 decided to bring up their children as Protestants. She also successfully petitioned King James I to restore her late husband’s estate, approaching him at Doncaster on his progress south from Scotland to assume the throne of England.
Apparently the Humphrey Littleton who was executed in the aftermath of the Gunpower Plot was Meriel’s brother-in-law, and thus the brother of her late husband John. (Wikipedia is wrong to describe Humphrey as one of the sons of Sir John Littleton of Frankley.) It was at her house at Hagley that Humphrey sheltered their nephew Stephen Littleton of Holbeach and his friend Robert Wintour after the collapse of the conspiracy. It seems that Stephen was the son of George, another brother of John and Humphrey.
I’ll probably have more to say about the Littletons and the Gunpowder Plot in another post. I’m fascinated by the links between the plotters and a number of prominent recusant families in Worcestershire, and the connections between those families and the people and places in my own family history. For now, I’m curious to know whether other branches of the Littleton family shared the Catholic faith of the John Littleton who took part in the Essex rebellion, and his brother Humphrey and nephew Stephen, executed for their role in the Gunpowder Plot. We know that Sir John Littleton (2), the father of Gilbert and grandfather of John (3) and Humphrey, was a convinced Protestant who objected to the re-introduction of Catholicism under Queen Mary. Was it Gilbert who reverted to Catholicism, or his sons? And were these sympathies shared by other branches of the Littleton family, such as those at Naunton?
We know that the Humphrey Naunton who died in 1624 was a good friend of Thomas Habington of Hindlip Hall, the Catholic antiquarian who was condemned to death but then reprieved for sheltering priests who were accused of complicity in the Gunpowder Plot. Habington described Humphrey as a ‘gentellman of nobell and worthy descent, with whom althoughe in hys lyfe I had discontentment, yet before hys deathe theare was between us, eaven with expressyon of teares, that true reconcilyation as I intreate all myne eaver to love hys.’ Was their friendship based on shared religious sympathies?