The marriage of William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott

On 20th March 1676 (1677 by modern reckoning), a scrivener named Thomas Sumerly, from the east London suburb of Shadwell, published a marriage allegation on behalf of William Greene, a 50-year-old widower, and Elizabeth Elliott, a widow of 35, both of them from nearby Stepney. Four years earlier, Sumerly had been  a witness to the last will and testament of his friend John Elliott, a well-to-do carpenter and Elizabeth’s late husband. The allegation ‘prayed Lycence’ for William and Elizabeth to be married ‘in ye parish Church of St Bartholomew the Lesse or St Paul Shadwell’.

The marriage allegation for William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott

The marriage allegation for William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott

I’m almost certain that the William Greene who married Elizabeth Elliott was Captain William Greene of Ratfliffe, and that he and Elizabeth were my 8 x great grandparents. Just two weeks before this allegation was published, ‘Jane wife of Capt. Willm. Green of Ratcliffe’ had been buried at the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney. About eleven months after the allegation was made, a child named Joseph Greene, ‘son of Capt. Willm. Green of Ratcliff mariner and Elizabeth uxor’, was christened at St Dunstan’s. Joseph was my 7 x great grandfather. Clearly, Captain Greene had remarried in the interim, to a woman named Elizabeth, and this marriage to Elizabeth Elliott seems to fit the bill.

However, until yesterday I hadn’t been able to locate a record of the marriage of William and Elizabeth. I’d found a reference, in the parish register of St Botolph’s, Aldgate, to a marriage between William Greene and Elizabeth Leate on 7th February 1677. Since Leate or Leete was Elizabeth Elliott’s maiden name, I’d managed to half-persuade myself that this might be the right record, despite the fact that it describes William as a bachelor, and that February 1677 was almost a year after the allegation was made. Not only that, but St Botolph’s, despite its proximity to Stepney, was not even one of the churches mentioned in the marriage allegation.

Church of St Bartholomew the Less, City of London

Church of St Bartholomew the Less, City of London (via wikimedia)

Then, yesterday morning, carrying out another sweep through the records at Ancestry, I came across a reference to a marriage on 23rd March 1676 between William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott – at St Bartholomew the Less, one of the two churches named in the allegation published by Thomas Sumerly. Unfortunately, it’s an index-only record: it seems that the parish records for St Bartholomew have not been fully digitised. This marriage took place three days after the allegation was published by Thomas Sumerly, so I think there’s a fair chance it’s the right one.

St Bartholomew the Less is a small church in the City of London, associated with St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Only a selection of its parish records have been digitised and uploaded to Ancestry: unfortunately they don’t include marriages for 1676. The complete parish records for the church are held by St Barts’ own archive and can be viewed by arrangement. I’m hoping it will be possible to pay a visit, if only to see whether the register includes any details – such as age, occupation or home parish – that would confirm that the William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott who were married on 23rd March 1676 were in fact my ancestors.

The will of John Greene of Newcastle, mariner (1668)

In the previous post I explored a theory about the family background of my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe. I speculated that he might have been the son of another William Greene, a chirurgeon  (surgeon) who also lived in Ratcliffe and had a son named William baptised at Stepney parish church in 1623/4. However, I’ve been unable to find any conclusive proof of this connection, so for now I’m continuing to explore other possibilities.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m still hoping to find some kind of link between my ancestor Captain Greene and another mariner of Ratcliffe, also named William Greene, who died in 1634. In his will, this William Greene made bequests to ‘my sonnes William Greene and Bartholomew Greene both of the parish abovesaid in the Countie of Midd Marriners’ and to ‘my Grandchildren beinge the sonnes and daughters of my three sonnes viz in number seaven’. The identity of the elder William Greene’s third son is revealed in the will of his widow, Elizabeth Greene, who died in 1655, in which she refers to one of her late husband’s surviving grandchildren as ‘John Greene the sonne of John Greene of New Castle Marriner’.


For some time, I’ve been searching for information about John Greene (father or son), and today I finally tracked down a document that may offer some clues about his life. In the Durham Probate Records I came across a reference to the will of John Greene, mariner, of Newcastle upon Tyne, who made his will in May 1668. Apparently this was a noncupative or oral will, made aboard the May Flower of Newcastle, in Carlisle Bay, off Bridgetown, Barbados.

John Greene’s will has been digitised and can be accessed via the FamilySearch site. I’ve now downloaded a copy and transcribed the document, which is fairly brief, as you might expect of a will taken down by dictation from a sick and dying man, on a ship thousands of miles from home. When I first came across the reference to the will, I assumed it was made by John Greene senior, the son of the William Greene who died in 1634. However, I now think that if it has any connection to the Greenes of Ratcliffe, it is more likely to be the will of William Greene’s grandson, also John, assuming that the latter followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by going to sea. I base my hunch on the fact that the John Greene who made this will refers to a brother named Joseph, and we know that the older John Greene only had two brothers, William the younger and Bartholomew. On the other hand, if it is the same family, then the fact that it includes the names of two family members – Joseph, and also his and John’s mother Dorothy – that might provide clues to uncovering the link, if any exists, with the Stepney Greenes. It’s also interesting that the master of the May Flower was Thomas Green, though the will gives no suggestion that the two men were related, and the shared surname may simply be a coincidence.

John Greene's will of 1668

John Greene’s will of 1668

I’ve been unable to find out very much about Thomas Green or his ship, except that it certainly wasn’t the famous Mayflower that transported the pilgrims to the New World more than half a century earlier: it seems there were a number of ships bearing the same name in the seventeenth century. At this period Barbados was an important British colony, dominated by sugar plantations and increasingly reliant on slave labour transported from Africa: the May Flower may well have taken part in this trade. During the 1660s, Barbados suffered a number of misfortunes, including a fire in Bridgetown and a major hurricane in 1667, and a drought in 1668, the year of John Greene’s death, which ruined some plantation owners.

My transcription of the will follows, and I hope that in future posts I’ll be able to report further findings on John Greene’s identity and his possible link with my Stepney ancestors.

Memorandum That in the Month of May in the yeare of our Lord God One Thousand Six Hundred Sixty Eight, John Green late whilst he lived of the Towne & County of Newcastle upon Tyne mariner, being then aboard the Ship called the May flower of Newcastle aforesd, whereof Thomas Green was then Master in Carlisle–bay at the Barbadoes, and being sicke and weake in body yet of sound and pfect memory, and being demanded by the sayd Thomas Green, how? and in what mannner? he would dispose of his Estaite, in case it should please God, to call him out of this mortall life, he the sayd John Green with A: serious intencon, and resolucon, to make & declare his last Will & Testament Nuncupative by word of mouth, answered and sayd, in these or the very like words in Effort following (vizt) The one halfe of my Estaite I give and bequeath to my brother Joseph Green: and the other halfe thereof I Give and bequeath unto my mother Dorothy Green Which words, or words tending to the same Effort & purpose were uttered by the sayd John Green being of pfect minde and memory, as and for his last Will & Testament Nuncupative in the psence and hearing of the sayd Thomas Green, and of John Chester Chirurgion of the sayd Shipp.


I wonder if there is any connection between Thomas Green, Master of the May Flower, and Thomas Greene, Captain of the Worcester, who was executed at Edinburgh in 1705 after a notorious trial for piracy, of which he was almost certainly innocent? I’m grateful to Christine Hancock, who has written about the case, for alerting me to this story in a comment on an earlier post.

Another look at the Bodington-Greene connection

I’m making another attempt to trace the origins of my maternal 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, who died in January 1685/6. Captain Greene was a mariner and Warden of Trinity House under Samuel Pepys. In the previous post, I reviewed the evidence confirming that William Greene was, indeed, my ancestor, and the father of my 7 x great grandfather, London goldsmith Joseph Greene (1677 – 1737).

Trinity House

Trinity House

I’ve always believed, though I haven’t been able to prove, that William Greene was somehow related to another mariner of the same name, who also lived in Ratcliffe, and who died in 1634. However, two years ago I speculated that William might be the son of another William Greene, who also lived in Ratcliffe, and who worked not as a mariner but as a chirurgeon (surgeon). This theory was prompted by my discovery that John Bodington, an apothecary who lived in Ratcliffe and made his will in 1728, was not only a close friend of Joseph Greene (he made him joint executor of his will) but for some reason had an interest in the will of Joseph’s mother-in-law (and my 8 x great grandmother) Alice Byne née Forrest.

My research into John Bodington’s background led me to the conclusion that he was the third person to bear that name in his family. The John Bodington who died in 1728 turns out to have been the son of another apothecary named John Bodington, also from Ratcliffe, who died in 1698. He in turn was the son of John Bodington, chirurgeon, who was not only apprenticed to William Greene of Ratcliffe, chirurgeon, but in 1638 married William’s daughter Margaret.

Interior of St Dunstan's, Stepney

Interior of St Dunstan’s, Stepney

We know from the Stepney parish records that William Greene, chirurgeon, and his first wife Agnes had a son named William, who was christened at the church of St Dunstan and All Saints on 14th March 1623/4. Could this be my 8 x great grandfather, the man who grew up to be Captain William Greene, mariner? If he survived, this William Greene would have been two months away from his 62nd birthday when he died in 1685/6: we know that Captain Greene was in his sixties when he died (the second digit of his age is obscured on his tombstone) and ‘aged 50 yeares or thereabouts’ when he married his second wife Elizabeth in 1676/7.

There are a number of posssible objections to this hypothesis. The first is that William Greene chirurgeon, makes no mention of a son William in his will of 1654. However, we know from other wills from this period that they did not always mention every heir or beneficiary. Moreover, William Greene also fails to mention his married daughter Margaret in the will, and at the same time makes reference to ‘my foure youngest daughters’ without naming any others.

Another possible objection is the unlikelihood of a chirurgeon’s son becoming a mariner. Isn’t it far more likely that William Greene junior would have become a chirurgeon, like his father? Once again, however, there might be ways of countering this objection. One is my theory that William Greene senior was, in fact, a ship’s surgeon who may have had dealings with the American colonies, so it’s possible to imagine his son growing up in surrounded by mariners and talk of sea voyages, all of which might have influenced him towards a maritime career.

HMS Monmouth

HMS Monmouth

Secondly, I’ve discovered a parallel in the family of the third John Bodington. Searching for records in the National Archives, I came across a case in Chancery from 1716, in which John Bodington of Stepney, Middlesex, was a defendant and Samuel Younghusband, a mariner, was the plaintiff. Younghusband was the purser on HMS Monmouth, which sailed to Jamaica in 1712. It appears that John Bodington’s brother Richard, said to be deceased, was a Lieutenant on the same ship. I assume the court case was a dispute over Richard’s will. Richard had been born in 1684, six years after John, but to date I’ve been unable to find any record of his death.

If the second John Bodington, a Ratcliffe apothecary and himself the son of a chirurgeon, could have a son who was a mariner, then might not William Greene, chirurgeon, also have had a son who became a ship’s captain?


Reviewing the records for the third John Bodington – the one who died in 1728 and was a friend of Joseph Greene – I noticed that he leaves ‘six pounds apiece to buy each of them mourning’ to his two apprentices, John Letch and Moor Doughty. I recalled that one of the witnesses to the will of Joseph Greene, who died ten years later, was Joseph Letch. He was an attorney, and it seems from the will of John Letch, apothecary, who died in 1763, that he was his brother. Incidentally, it appears that Moor or Moore Doughty became a ship’s surgeon.

Reviewing what we know about Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe (died 1686)

My recent ‘second look’ at the will of my 7 x great grandfather, London goldsmith Joseph Greene (1677 – 1737), has re-awakened my interest in the Greene family of Stepney. As I noted in the last post, my discovery two years ago that the maiden name of my 7 x great grandmother, Joseph’s wife Mary, was Byne, has enabled me to trace one branch of my maternal family tree back as far as the early 16th century. However, I remain disappointed that I’ve been unable to follow Joseph Greene’s family any further back than his father, my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe.

Graves in Stepney churchyard (flickr)

Graves in Stepney churchyard (flickr)

Part of my frustration is that I’ve discovered a rich seam of records relating to a seafaring Greene family living in the Ratcliffe area, earlier in the seventeenth century, but to date I haven’t been able to connect them reliably with Captain Greene. I remain fascinated, in particular, by the will of Elizabeth Greene, who died in 1655, and was the widow of another William Greene, also a mariner from Ratcliffe, who died in 1634 – since that remarkable document introduces a fascinating cast of characters and opens up a wealth of religious, political and literary connections in London and Kent in the period leading up to the Civil War.

I want to have yet another attempt at tracing the origins of Captain William Greene, but before I do so, I want to reassure myself that Captain Greene is, indeed, my ancestor. So in this post I’m returning to the evidence that we have for his life and family connections.

The church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

The church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

The first suggestion of Captain Greene’s existence, and his link with my maternal ancestors, is to be found in the inscription on a tomb in Stepney churchyard in the East End of London. In 1896, the inscription was transcribed by James Joseph Holdsworth (1876 – 1933), who Ancestry informs me was my third cousin three times removed. He was the great grandson of Joseph Holdsworth (1770 – 1844), the brother of my 4 x great grandfather, William Holdsworth (1771 – 1827). I’m grateful to my fellow researcher Adrian Holdsworth for sharing this document, as well as many others from the Holdsworth family archive, with me.

According to J.J. Holdsworth’s record, the Greene family tomb in the grounds of the parish church of St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney was an altar tomb, ‘containing inscription, crest and coat of arms on the upper slab and inscription on two sides’. He adds that ‘the carving on the upper side is very indistinct, but fortunately much is still readable’. Indeed, Holdsworth’s transcription includes a number of ellipses and some numerals about which he was obviously uncertain, signalling this by placing them within parentheses. Apparently the family crest was ‘a stag’s head erased’ and the coat of arms ‘a chevron between three stags trippant’.

The inscription on the upper slab of the tomb reads as follows:

Here lie the Remains of

Capt. W. GREENE late of

Ratcliff Mariner who died

the 3rd of January 168(2) Age 6(0)

Also of Mrs. Eliz. Greene

who died the 14th of December 17(12)

Aged 80

Also of Mr. Joseph Greene

Citizen and Goldsmith . . . . . .

late of the parish of St. B. . . .

who died the 26th of December 1717

Aged 60 years

The inscription on the north side of the tomb reads as follows:

Here lieth the remains of

Mrs. Elizabeth Holdsworth late of this parish

who departed this life March 1st 1809

aged 77 years

Also Mr. John Wm. Bonner nephew of the above

late of His Majesty’s Ordinance Office Tower

who departed this life Septr. 21st 1817

aged 55 years

Also Mr. John Holdsworth son of the above

who died Dec. 2nd 1848 aged 84 years.

The inscription on the south side of the tomb reads as follows:

Here lie the bodies of

Ann Elizth and Joseph Son and Daughter

of Mr. Joseph Greene of Tower Hill

Goldsmith, and Mary his wife

Ann died the 23rd of December 1705 3 days old

Elizth died on the 27th of August 1725

aged 18 years and 11 months

Joseph died the – of Octo r 172(6) aged (25)

These inscriptions are a vital source of information about the Holdsworth and Greene families, providing a link between my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Holdsworth and her Greene ancestors. The description of John William Bonner as Elizabeth’s nephew enables us to conclude that she was born Elizabeth Gibson, since it was her sister Frances Gibson who married mariner Michael Bonner, and they were John William’s parents. We also know from Joseph Greene’s will, as well as from other sources, that his daughter Mary was married to John Gibson, Elizabeth’s father. Although the inscription doesn’t state explicitly that Joseph Greene, citizen and goldsmith, was the son of Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, this is certainly the implication, and confirmation of that connection can be found elsewhere.

St Botolph without Aldgate

St Botolph without Aldgate

From other sources, we can fill in at least one of the ellipses in this transcription: for example, we know that Joseph Greene lived in the parish of St Botolph, Aldgate. And since we know that Joseph definitely died in 1737, not 1717, we can perhaps retain some scepticism about the accuracy of some of the other dates.

Other sources provide confirmation that Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe was, indeed, the father of Joseph Greene. For example, an official document relating to Joseph’s admission to Freedom of the City of London, dated 3rd May 1693, describes him (in Latin) as: ‘Josephus Green fil.  [i.e. son of] Willm Greene de Stepney Com. Midlx.’ and as apprenticed to Joseph Strong ‘Civis et AureFabr’ [citizen and goldsmith]. Responding to a query from me about Joseph a few years ago, Eleni Bide of the Goldsmiths’ Company wrote:

One Joseph Green, son of William, Mariner, deceased, was apprenticed to Joseph Strong, Citizen and Goldsmith on 15 June 1692 (Apprentice Book 4, page 20). He was made free on 14 April 1708, and became a Liveryman in October of that year.

When we search for William Greene himself in the Stepney parish records, we find that the only burial record bearing any relation to the information on his tomb notes that on 6th January 1685 ‘Capt. William Green of Ratcliffe Mariner’ was buried there. (Note: this would have been 1686 by modern reckoning, since at this period the new year did not begin until March). This would certainly fit with a death date of 3rd January, as stated on the tomb. As for the year of death, this is one of those dates about which the transcriber of the tomb inscription was unsure: he might easily have mistaken a ‘5’ for a ‘2’. A William Green of Ratcliffe died and was buried at St Dunstans in May 1680, but he was said to be the son of Thomas Green, shipwright – in other words, he was still a minor.

Given that the name, rank, occupation, place and month of death, as well as the decade of the date at least, all match, I think we can conclude that this is, in fact, the right Captain William Greene. It’s perhaps a little concerning that a 1795 publication entitled The Environs of London, in listing the tombs in Stepney churchyard, also gives Captain William Green’s year of death as 1682 – but then, the final digit on the tomb inscription might already have become obscured by that date, more than a century after William’s death.

The Thames at London Bridge in the 17th century

Ships on the Thames at London Bridge, 17th century

If we then look for the birth of a son Joseph to a William Greene, we find that on 14th March 1677 (1678 by modern reckoning), the baptism took place at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, of Joseph ‘son of Capt. Willm. Green of Ratcliff mariner and Elizabeth uxor’ (wife). The child was said to be 22 days old at the time, so he was born on or about 22nd February. Knowing that Joseph died in December 1737, we can confirm that he was, as the tomb inscription correctly states, 60 years old at the time of his death. We also know from the inscription that William Greene’s wife was indeed Elizabeth, a common name at the time, but perhaps further confirmation that this is the ‘right’ William Greene.

On 22nd October 1685 ‘William Greene of Ratcliffe in the parish of Stebenheath als Stepney in the County of Middx mariner’ made his will. This was less than three months before the death of ‘our’ Captain Greene. Since the will also mentions his wife Elizabeth and a son named Joseph who is not yet twenty one, it’s almost certainly the right man, despite the fact that the will would not be proved until October 1686. From the will we also learn that William Greene had a daughter Mary whose surname was White, and two grandchildren, William Greene and Mary Greene: the absence of any mention of their father suggests that he may have died by this date.

On 7th March 1676 (1677 by modern reckoning), ‘Jane wife of Capt. Willm. Green of Ratcliffe’ was buried at St Dunstan’s, Stepney. Thirteen days later, on ‘20 Marty 1676/7’, a scrivener named Thomas Sumerly published the official allegation of ‘a marriage shortly to be solemnized between Wm Greene of Stepney in ye County of Midds widdower aged 50 yeares or thereabouts & Elizabeth Elliott of ye same place widow aged 35 or thereabouts’.

Section of Rocque's 1746 map, showing part of Ratcliffe.

Section of Rocque’s 1746 map, showing part of Ratcliffe.

While we can’t be absolutely sure that this was Captain William Greene and his second wife, there are a number of facts that point in that direction. Firstly, his tomb inscription seems to state that Captain Greene was 60 years old or thereabouts when he died in 1685/6, which matches the claim in the marriage allegation that he was ‘aged 50 yeares or thereabouts’ in 1676. Secondly, the same inscription claims that Captain Greene’s widow Elizabeth was 80 when she died. The date of her death is unclear on the tomb, but if it were 1722, and not 1712, then this would fit. I’ve argued elsewhere that Elizabeth Elliott was probably the widow of prosperous Ratcliffe carpenter John Elliott, who had died in 1674, in which case her maiden name was Leete. Thirdly, the marriage of William Greene and Elizabeth Elliott took place about eleven months before the birth of Joseph Greene, said to be the son of Captain William Greene and his wife Elizabeth.

Besides important information about his immediate family, William Greene’s will of October 1685 also includes this about his friends:

I desire that my said wife Elizabeth Green will att my funeral give unto such and so many my worthy friends the Elder Brothers of the Trinity House (whereof I am a member) whose names are mentioned in a note under my hand delivered to my said wife to each person a ring to wear in remembrance of me.

From this, we can conclude that Captain Greene was at the very least a member, and almost certainly an Elder Brother of Trinity House, the guild of mariners founded by Royal Charter in 1514. In 1685 a new charter was issued by King James II ‘for the government and increase of the navigation of England, and the relief of poor mariners, their widows and orphans, etc’. The charter appointed thirty-one Elder Brethren, of whom one was to hold the office of Master, four were to act as Wardens, and eight as Assistants. None other than the diarist Samuel Pepys, who had been secretary to the Navy Board under James’ brother and predecessor Charles II, was appointed as Master. The Charter continues:

And also We have assigned, nominated, constituted, and made, and by these Presents, for Us, our Heirs, and Successors, do assign, nominate, constitute, and make Captain John Nichols, Captain Henry Mudd, Captain Nicholas Kerrington, and Captain William Green, to be the four first and present Wardens of the said Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood.

(emphasis added)

Since we know that ‘our’ William Greene was an Elder Brother of Trinity House, and since there is only man of that name in the list of Elder Brothers from this period, then it seems reasonable to conclude that the Captain William Greene who served as one of the four wardens of Trinity House in 1685 was my ancestor. As I’ve noted before, at least two of his fellow wardens were near neighbours: Henry Mudd lived in Ratcliffe and Nicholas Kerrington in Wapping.

In summary, this review of the evidence leads us to conclude that:

  • Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, mariner, was the father of Joseph Greene, goldsmith of the parish of St Botolph, Aldgate, and therefore the great grandfather of my ancestor Elizabeth Holdsworth née Gibson.
  • this same William Greene was firstly married to a woman named Jane, and then to a widow named Elizabeth Elliott who was the mother of Joseph.
  • William Greene had a daughter Mary, whose married name was White.
  • William also had two grandchildren, William and Mary Green, whose father seems to have died before 1685.
  • Captain William Greene died in January 1686 (new style) in the hamlet of Ratcliffe, in the parish of Stepney, and his widow Elizabeth probably died in 1722.
  • William was an Elder Brother of Trinity House, and almost certainly one of its four wardens, serving under Samuel Pepys, in the year before he died.
  • William was probably about 60 years old when he died, which means that he was born in 1626 or thereabouts.

This much seems clear. However, as we shall see, attempting to go further and trace Captain William Greene’s origins is another matter altogether.

Revisiting the will of Joseph Greene (died 1738) – and a surprise discovery

Occasionally, in family history research, revisiting familiar records can highlight details that you had failed to notice before: details that may be tiny in themselves, but whose discovery can have important consequences. So it was that, two years ago, a closer look at the marriage record of my 7 x great grandfather Joseph Greene, London citizen and goldsmith, made me realise that his wife’s name was not Mary Byrne, as I and every other person researching our family history had thought, but Mary Byne. From that realisation, I was able to find her parents, John and Alice Byne, and through them uncover my connection to the history of the interconnected Byne, Manser and Fowle families in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Sussex – which has preoccupied me ever since.

18th century goldsmiths at work

18th century goldsmiths at work

But revisiting familiar records can have negative as well as positive consequences, shutting down existing lines of enquiry rather than opening up new ones, though this too can be helpful. So it was that yesterday, browsing through my family tree, I took another look at the will of Joseph Greene, which he made in December 1737, shortly before his death. I realised that I had never actually made my own transcription of the will, relying instead on the work of other researchers, nor had I posted the will on this blog. Finding the version available at Ancestry difficult to decipher, I purchased a new copy from the National Archives and set to work transcribing it.

Joseph Greene’s will is brief and to the point, concerned mainly (as you might expect from a prosperous goldsmith) with financial matters, and it contains few clues about his family or friends. One of the three witnesses, Joseph Letch, seems to have been a lawyer at the Middle Temple, and was probably the family attorney, while the other two witnesses, Anne Jones and Mary Phillips, have common surnames and might have been family friends, or even servants. The main business of the will is to ensure that Joseph’s only surviving daughter, also named Mary, receives the generous amount of money promised in her marriage settlement (she had been married for eight years when her father died). Mary had been promised £2000 and is now bequeathed a further £1000: this would be equivalent to about £250,000 (or $370,000 US dollars) in today’s currency.

Tower Hill in the late 17th century

Tower Hill in the late 17th century

Mary’s husband was John Gibson and they had been married at the parish church of All Hallows, London Wall, less than a mile from the Greene family home at Tower Hill, on 8th July 1729, when Mary was nineteen years old. John Gibson’s origins, and indeed many of the details of his life, remain a mystery. Was he the son of Benjamin and Mary Gibson of Gravel Lane, who had also been married at All Hallows, and who had a son John baptised in 1699, the year of ‘our’ John Gibson’s birth, according to his burial record? And was he the John Gibson, coal factor, convicted of defrauding the Crown and imprisoned in the Fleet in 1742, who took up the trade of brewing on his release?

These questions have yet to find a satisfactory answer. However, research into John Gibson’s life has also been guided by another assumption: that, at some stage, he served as an officer in the Navy. The only hard evidence for this is derived from Joseph Greene’s will, which appears to describe Gibson as a lieutenant:

Mr or Lieut?

However, taking a closer look at the will yesterday, I noticed that the letters that I, and other researchers, had thought spelled ‘Liet’ were in fact something rather different, and much more prosaic.

My daughter Mary

In fact, the first letter was remarkably similar to the initial letter of his wife’s name, Mary, in the previous line. And the final letter could be read, in fact, as an ‘r’ with a full stop beneath. In other words, Joseph Greene did not describe his son-in-law as a lieutenant, but as plain Mr. John Gibson.

This means that I can stop my fruitless search for John Gibson in eighteenth-century naval records and focus on his actual career, possibly as a lighterman and coal factor. This is not to deny that the Gibson family would, in due course, enjoy important links with the Navy. One of John and Mary Gibson’s grandsons would be named after the naval hero, Sir Edmund Affleck, who also seems to have been a witness to the first marriage of their son, Bowes John Gibson. However, this connection seems to come about through Bowes John’s own work for the East India Company, rather than through his father.

I’m sure I’ll be returning to the story of John Gibson at some point, and to that of his father-in-law, Joseph Greene. For now, and for information, here is my transcription of Joseph’s will:

I Joseph Greene Citizen and Goldsmith of London do make my last will and testament as follows. First I order and direct that all my just debts shall be paid and satisfied and whereas I agreed to give the sum of Two Thousand pounds as a portion with my daughter Mary upon her marriage with her now husband Mr. John Gibson to be setled to such uses purposes and in such manner as is mentioned and expressed in certain deeds of settlement made previous to and in consideration of the said then intended marriage which sum hath not as yet been paid by me Wherefore I doe order and direct that my Executrix hereafter named shall not only forthwith pay the said sum of Two Thousand pounds but also the further sum of One Thousand pounds to such person or persons as is or are intituled to receive the said sum of Two Thousand pounds by virtue of the said marriage settlement which said one Thousand pounds shall be applyde setled and disposed of in such manner and to upon and for such uses trusts intents and purposes as the said two Thousand pounds is thereby agreed and intended to be settled and secured Also I give devise and bequeath unto my dear and beloved wife Mary Green her heirs Executors and Administrators for ever All the rest and remainder of my estate real and personal of what nature kind quantity or quality so ever and do make and constitute my said wife sole Executrix of this my will hereby revoking all former will heretofore by me made In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this nineteenth day of december in the year of our Lord one Thousand seven hundred and thirty seven – the mark of Joseph Green signed sealed published and declared by the said Joseph Green as his last Will and Testament in the presence of us who at his request have subscribed our names as witnesses thereto in his presence Anne Jones Mary Phillips Jos: Letch.

This Will was proven before the worshipfull Thomas Walker doctor of Laws Surrogate to the Right Worshipfull John Bottesworth also doctor of Laws Master Keeper or Commissary of the prerogative Court of Canterbury lawfull constituted the sixth day of February in the year of our Lord One Thousand Seven hundred thirty seven by the oath of Mary Greene widow the Relict of the deceased and Sole Executrix named in the said will to whom Administration was granted of all and singular the Goods Chattels and Credits of the said deceased being first sworn duly to Administer.

Notes on the will of Thomas Lucke of Litlington (died 1552)

Thomas Lucke, curate of the parish of Litlington, Sussex, whose will I transcribed in the last post, died in March 1552, five years years after the death of King Henry VIII and the accession of his son, Edward VI. In those first few years of Edward’s reign, English replaced Latin as the language of church services, priests were given permission to marry, the first Book of Common Prayer was sanctioned by Parliament, and the first Act of Uniformity made the Catholic Mass illegal. Against this background, it is worth noting the traditionally Catholic preamble to Thomas Lucke’s will: he commits his soul ‘into the hands of almyghtie god, with the intercessyon of the blessed virgyn marye mother of god and all the holy companye of heaven’. A similar formula can be found in the will of his (probable) relative John Lucke of Mayfield, who had died two years earlier. However, it is perhaps just as interesting that Thomas’ will includes none of the requests for prayers for his soul that we find in John Lucke’s will, or indeed in the will of my 13 x great grandfather Gabriel Fowle (whose son Magnus married Thomas’ niece Alice), who died four years later, during the brief restoration of traditional religion under Queen Mary.

High and Over and Chalk Horse from above Litlington, Sussex ((via wikimedia)

High and Over and Chalk Horse from above Litlington, Sussex ((via wikimedia)

Perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that Thomas was a priest under Edward’s reforming regime and had to conform, at least outwardly, to the new ways. At any rate, I take this preamble as evidence that Thomas was not a wholehearted convert to the new religion, and certainly not one of those priests who, like Thomas Hothe, became evangelists for radical protestantism. As I’ve noted before, the details of Thomas’ clerical career are rather unclear. If we accept the theory that he was formerly praecentor of the Augustinian priory at Michelham, which was suppressed in 1537, then his movements over the next fifteen years leading up to his death remain a mystery. According to the clergy records, he was curate at Litlington on 14th December 1551, three months before his death and two months after he made his will, but there is no other reference to him in the archives. On the same date, Lawrence Woodcock was said to be rector at Litlington, a post he would hold until his resignation in 1555. Woodcock had been a fellow of New College, Oxford, from 1508 to 1520, and held a number of posts in the Chichester diocese before coming to Litlington.

Thomas Lucke’s will makes a number of references to members of his family, though he rarely makes clear their relationship to him, or to each other. A notable absence is the name of Richard Lucke, who we know to have been his brother, and the father of my 12 x great grandmother Alice Fowle née Lucke, though he does refer to another beneficiary as the man who married ‘my brother’s daughter’. From this absence, I make the assumption that Richard probably predeceased his brother Thomas, and from the use of Alice’s maiden name I assume that she was yet to marry Magnus Fowle. Alice is to receive a number of sums of money, which correspond more or less to the ‘severall sumes of monye to the sume of tenne pounds together’ mentioned in the Chancery case, though there is no reference to the ‘two p[ar]cells of Sylver [ ] pounds & too [ ] called tablets of Sylver gylt sett with certen parcells to the value of five pounds’ also referred to in that document.

Tudor coins (via

Tudor coins (via

I’m fairly confident that the Elizabeth Lucke, who is also left a sum of money by Thomas, is the other daughter of Richard Lucke, referred to in the same legal case. It seems likely, too, that Thomasin Lucke, who is to share the sum with Elizabeth, was another sister. The identity of the Thomas Lucke ‘of maydston’ named in the will is unclear: it’s possible this person was either a son of Richard Lucke’s, or a cousin or more distant relative of the testator.

The only other person mentioned in the will who was definitely a relative of Thomas Lucke is ‘Woddye of hartysfelde that maryed my brothers daughter’. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is probably a reference to Hartfield, which is a dozen or so miles north-west of the Lucke family’s home village of Mayfield. A certain John Wodye senior made his will there in 1558. From the context, it’s impossible to be sure whether Wodye’s wife was another of the daughters of Richard Lucke, or of another brother of Thomas’.

We know from the case in Chancery that the Robert Holden named in Thomas Lucke’s will was actually his executor: he was the person with whom Magnus and Alice Fowle were in dispute about the will. Thomas describes him as ‘my hoste’ and his wife Agnes, a witness to the will, as ‘my hostess’: she is to receive many of his household goods. Does this mean that Thomas was living with the Holdens at the time of his death, even though one presumes that the parish provided accommodation for their curate? Or had they taken him in after his expulsion from the suppressed Michelham Priory? So far I’ve failed to find the Holdens in any local records, though a Nicholas Holden, a weaver of Wythyam, would be among the protestants burned at Mayfield in 1556.

Roger Deane and John Fawkener, who are bequeathed equal amounts of money by Thomas Lucke, seem to have been residents of Waldron, about fifteen miles north of Litlington. They had both acted as executors of the will of Thomas Jefferay of Chiddingley in 1550. That will also makes reference to Sir Edward Gage, and I’ve had occasion to mention the Fawkners and the Gages in the same context before, when writing about the will of my 11 x great grandfather John Manser of Wadhurst, who died in 1597. As I noted then, the Fawkners of Waldron were ironmasters and tenants of the Catholic Gage family: indeed, a John Fawkner assisted Sir John Gage in the interrogation of the radical protestant Richard Woodman, who was burned at Lewes in 1557.

Richard Turke, another beneficiary of the will, may also have lived at Waldron, though Richard Turke the elder and younger were named in the lay subsidy roll for Wadhurst in 1524-5. I’ve been unable to find a ‘Brooke of Retherfield’ in the records for Rotherfield, but the ‘Ric. brook the younger’ who witnessed Thomas Lucke’s will may have been the Richard Brooke of Litlington who made his own will in 1556. I’ve been unable to locate the Gregory Martyn (Martyr?) of Mayfield who is mentioned in Thomas’ will. Nor have I had much luck with William Hiberden or Hyberden, another of its witnesses, or with Joan Hyberden, who was perhaps his wife, though there were Hyberdens in Birdham near Chichester at this period, and a Francis Hiberden was parish priest in Heathfield in the 1550s.

St Andrews church, Alfriston (via

St Andrews church, Alfriston (via

There’s a Birdham connection with another of the witnesses to Thomas Lucke’s will. Richard Cresweller would be rector there from 1554 to 1569, but at the time of of Thomas’ death he was vicar of Alfriston, just a couple of miles north of Litlington. The Cresswellers, in fact, seem to have been a wealthy and influential Chichester family. Richard Cressweller was probably the fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, who in the early 1530s had been involved in a dispute, culminating in a violent quarrel, concerning property just across the county border in West Tisted, Hampshire.

The last will and testament of Thomas Lucke, priest

I’ve taken delivery of a copy of the will of Thomas Lucke, a priest in the parish of Litlington, Sussex, who died in March 1552. I learned about Thomas’ existence when transcribing a document relating to a case in Chancery involving my 12 x great grandparents Magnus and Alice Fowle. Alice’s maiden name was Lucke and the document led me to conclude that she was the daughter of Richard Lucke of Mayfield. Richard had a brother named Thomas, a ‘clarke’, who ‘by his last will in writing made & declaryd at Lythyngton [i.e. Litlington]…the xxivth date of October in the yere of our Lorde god a thousand one hundred fifty & one dyd … bequeathe to the sayd Alyce … certen severall sumes of monye to the sume of tenne pounds together’. In other words, Thomas Lucke was Alice Fowle’s paternal uncle, and the Chancery case seemed to involve a dispute about his will and what had become of Alice’s legacy.

St Michael's church, Litlington, Sussex

St Michael’s church, Litlington, Sussex

Some extracts from Thomas Lucke’s will were included in a collection of Sussex wills published by the Sussex Record Society in 1938. I was interested to see that the editor shared my belief that Thomas had probably been a priest at Michelham Priory, about seven miles from Litlington, until its suppression in 1537. The Record Society publication makes reference to a volume of the Sussex Archaeological Collections which notes that, at the time of the Visitation of 1521, Thomas Luche or Luck was the precentor of the priory, being one of five priests and four novices who made up the community at that time. Interestingly, Michelham was an Augustinian priory, thus providing a connection between the Lucke and Fowle families, since Magnus Fowle’s relative (possibly his uncle) Bartholomew Fowle was the last prior of St Mary Overy in Southwark, having previously been a canon of Leeds Priory in Kent. As I’ve noted before, it seems likely that the Fowles were linked by marriage with the Pattenden family of Lamberhurst, who included among their number Thomas Pattenden, prior of Combwell in the early years of the sixteenth century. All of these were Augustinian foundations. 

Whatever his previous experience, we know that Thomas Lucke was curate at Litlington on 14th December 1551, two months after he made his will and a little over two months before that will was proved. This is the only record of Thomas to be found in the database of clergy appointments. How long he had been at Litlington and what he was doing beforehand is unclear, particularly in the fourteen years since Michelham Priory was shut down and enjoyed the dubious distinction of being the first religious house in the country to be awarded to Thomas Cromwell, the agent of its destruction.

Gatehouse, Michelham Priory (via

Gatehouse, Michelham Priory (via

Thomas Lucke’s will includes some useful information about his associates and connections, though perhaps less about his family relationships than I had hoped. I’m sharing my transcription of the will below, and I’ll discuss what I think it can tell us in another post. I’m fairly confident that I’ve managed to decipher most of the words accurately, though I’m less sure about the Roman numerals, which are perhaps less important. I’ve emboldened proper names thus for ease of reference.

In dei no[m]i[n]e Amen In the xxiivth day of Octobre the yere of o[u]r Lorde god. I Thomas Lucke hole of mynde & off good memorye make this my last wyll & Testament in forme & man[ne]r as ffoloweth. Ffyrst I comytt my soule into the hands of almyghtie god, w[i]th the intercessyon of the blessed virgyn marye mother of god and all the holy companye of heaven, My bodye to be buryed where yt shall please god to departe my soule from this p[re]sent lyffe Item I wyll twenty nobylls of the monye in the hands of Roger deane, & John ffaweken[e]r to be equally devyded betwene theme, as parte of the xth in there hands. And the rest off the xth, that ys, x nobylls to be dystrybuted to the povrtie, after the dyscretyon of my executor: In Lytlyngton, & Mayghffelde & ther aboutt, after the dyscrecon of my executor to the most nedye. Item I wyll of the xth of myne in the hands of Richard Turke, I wyll of the same xth, to hym x nobylls. And to Alyce Lucke other x nobylls. & to the povertie, after the dyscretyon of my executor at my buryall or monethes mynde, at Lytlington, Item I wyll to woddye of hartysfelde that maryed my brothers daughter, which hayth xith in his hands, whereof I gyve to the sayde woddye x nobylls, And to the sayd Alice Lucke other x nobylls, and to the povertie other x nobylls after the dyscretyon of my executor at Lytlyngton and there about, and the xxv remaynynge of the xith, I will to Thomas Lucke of maydston. Item I fforgyve brooke of Retherfelde the xxv which he oweth me Item I wyll of that monye that ys in Gregorye Martynes hands of Mayghfelde xlv to the povertie there to be dystrybuted by my executor. And the Resydue of the monye in his hands, I wyll halfe to Alice Lucke: the other halffe I wyll equally betwene Thomasyn Lucke and Elizabeth Lucke, by the hands of my executor to theme to be delyvred. Item I wyll to Jone hyberden xxd of the monye which I have here about me, that is, ii peces of golde which ys xxs, also angelate, a cruseado wherreof one of the xv I wyll to Robert holden my hoste, & my best shorte gowne my worsted deybyde (?). If (?) I wyll the crusado my Longe fyne gowne, & my sylver spone I wyll to agnes holden my hostes & all my beddynge wth the ptyanance (?). The Resydue of my goods not bequeathed nor here rehersed I wyll to Robert Holden my sole sp(??) I make Mr Willm hiberden my ov[e]rsear of this my Last wyll, to whome I wyll for his Labour my angelate nobyll & one of my gallones (?). Theyse beinge wytnesse Mr Willm hyberden, Ric. Cresweller clerke, Ric. brook the yongr, and Agnes holden with other the day & yere afore wrytten.

Some new notes on Magnus Byne (1615 – 1671)

While I wait for some recently-ordered documents to arrive, my attention has turned away temporarily from my sixteenth-century Fowle ancestors and back to their descendants in seventeenth-century Sussex, and in particular to my 9 x great grandfather Magnus Byne (1615 – 1671), who was the rector of Clayton-cum-Keymer. Magnus Byne was the son of Stephen Byne and Mary Manser, the grandson of Edward Byne and Agnes Fowle, the great grandson of Magnus Fowle and his wife Alice Lucke, and the great great grandson of Gabriel Fowle.

Parish church of St John the Baptist, Clayton, Sussex

Parish church of St John the Baptist, Clayton, Sussex

Yesterday I thought I’d found a new source that independently verified some of the information about Magnus Byne that, until then, I’d only seen in Walter Renshaw’s history of the Byne family. The source was a chapter on ‘The Manor of Keymer’ in a 1911 collection published by the Sussex Archaeological Society. However, on closer investigation, it turned out that the chapter was written by none other than Walter Renshaw himself, who was apparently chairman of the society’s council.

Nevertheless, the chapter contains some interesting snippets of information which have added somewhat to my understanding of Magnus Byne’s life and times. For example, it reminded me of the close ties between Clayton and Lewes Priory. The priory held the advowson for the parish until its dissolution in 1537. Not only that, but its famous medieval wall paintings, uncovered in the nineteenth century, were the work of monks from the priory.

Medieval wall paintings uncovered at the parish church of Clayton, Sussex

Medieval wall paintings uncovered at the parish church of Clayton, Sussex

Was it simple coincidence that Magnus Byne became rector of a church with historical ties to Lewes, where his great-great-grandfather (and my 13 x great grandfather) Gabriel Fowle had been master of the free grammar school a hundred years before?

After the dissolution of Lewes Priory, the advowson of Clayton-cum-Keymer came into the possession of Thomas Cromwell, the agent of its destruction, before passing to Edward Knight of Clayton. Renshaw’s chapter lists the three rectors who served the parish in the second half of the sixteenth century. The last of these, John Farley, ‘seems to have been somewhat negligent in his duties, as he forgot to preach for two consecutive years’.

Farley’s successor was William Wane, who was my 10 x great grandfather, since it was his daughter Anne who would marry Magnus Byne and become the mother of my 8 x great grandfather John Byne. Before coming to Clayton, William Wane had been curate at Wivelsfield, twelve miles away. He married Joan Kemp, widow of Thomas Kemp of Albourne, just five miles from Clayton.

Renshaw writes that William Wane was instituted to the rectory at Clayton on 9th December 1601, ‘on the presentation of Queen Elizabeth “ratione defectus liberatione Thomae Whiting generosi”’, and inducted on 1st January 1601/2. He continues:

Some difficulty connected with the title to the advowson existed at this time, as on 25th November, 1601, Sir Edward Michelborne wrote to Sir Robert Cecil stating that he claimed the patronage. In 1603, however, Sir Edward was returned as being the patron. Thomas Whiting was closely related to Sir Edward Michelborne.

Edward Michelborne of Clayton (c.1562 – 1609) was a soldier, adventurer and Member of Parliament who was implicated in the the Earl of Essex’s rebellion of 1601. However, this note by Renshaw is particularly interesting to me because of the other name mentioned: Thomas Whiting. It may be mere coincidence, but this was also the name of the father-in-law of Stephen Byne, Magnus Byne’s eldest son, who would hold the advowson for Clayton for a time after his father’s death. Thomas Whiting, was a London citizen and joiner, and a neighbour both of Stephen, a citizen and upholsterer, and his brother John, a citizen and stationer.

The coronation of King Charles II

The coronation of King Charles II

Is there a connection between the two Thomas Whitings: was Stephen Byne’s father-in-law the son of the man who was once the patron of his father’s parish? And does this suggest that the Whitings of London, like their neighbours the Bynes, had their roots in Sussex? I haven’t been able to answer this question yet, but in hunting for information, I’ve discovered more about Thomas Whiting. As a master joiner, he helped to prepare pageants for the Lord Mayor’s show in 1659, 1660 and 1662, and in 1661 he worked on the entertainments for the coronation of Charles II. He also played a part in the rebuilding of the church of St Edmund the King, Lombard Street, and in the design of Brewers’ Hall. Thomas was obviously a wealthy man: in 1676 he donated an organ to the church of St Botolph, Aldgate, which was installed in the early years of the eighteenth century and is still apparently in situ, having recently been restored.

In the early decades of the seventeenth century, the advowson for Clayton-cum-Keymer passed through a number of hands before being purchased by John Batnor, the puritanically-inclined and possibly deranged rector of Westmeston, just a few miles to the east of Clayton. In his will of 1624 Batnor entrusted the adowson to four people, including ‘my unnaturall and undutifull sonne’ Richard, and stated his wish that the post of rector should be conferred on his son-in-law Henry Cooper, the husband of his daughter Joan. However, this hardly reflected any confidence in Cooper, whom Batnor commanded ‘upon danger of a curse from God to continue incumbent of the said living […] sincerely preaching the sacred word of God without any fantasticall conceits or divelish brethings’. Batnor’s will went on to abuse his other sons, noting that John, the eldest of them, ‘on 15th July, 1623, cursed me with a bitter curse calling me hellhound and challenging mee to be worse than the divell for the divell loved his own’. One can only speculate what life in the Batnor household must have been like.

Renshaw informs us that, on John Batnor senior’s death in 1626, the probate was revoked by sentence: ‘it is in charity to be hoped on the grounds of the testator’s insanity’. The result was that the advowson of Clayton devolved upon John Batnor junior, who took up the post in September 1626. As I’ve noted before, John Bantnor became the first of the clerical husbands of Anne Wane, daughter of his predecessor, when he married her at Clayton in July 1628.

After John Batnor’s death in 1638 he was followed as rector of Clayton by William Chowne, who became Anne’s second husband. Chowne only lived for two years after his arrival at Clayton, and was succeeded in July 1640 by Magnus Byne, who became Anne’s third husband in the following March. Magnus and Anne would have five children together, the youngest being my 8 x great grandfather John, before Anne’s death in March 1661/2. As I noted in my earlier post about Anne, she had spent her whole life at Clayton rectory, being born there as the daughter of one incumbent, and having subequently married three others.

Printing in the 17th century

Printing in the 17th century

Renshaw’s chapter reminds us that Magnus Byne’s second wife was Sarah Bartlett, ‘daughter of John Bartlett of St Faith’s, in the City of London, citizen and stationer’. I’ve written before about John Bartlett’s puritan sympathies and his publication of works of religious propaganda during the 1630s and 1640s. In 1656, eight years before his marriage to Sarah Bartlett, Magnus Byne had published a book of his own, with the resonant title, The Scornful Quakers answered, and their railing reply refutedI wonder if it was through his contacts with London publishers that Magnus met John Bartlett and thus his daughter?

Renshaw notes that Magnus’ diatribe against the Quakers, was printed, not by John Bartlett, but ‘by William Bentley, for Andrew Crook, at the sign of the Green Dragon, in St Paul’s Churchyard. (In 1655 John Bartlett was himself at the sign of the Gilt Cup ‘in the new buildings on the South side of Pauls, neer St Austin’s-Gate’, and in 1657 he would be ‘at the Golden Cup in Pauls Church Yard over against the Drapers’).

The cover of Magnus Byne's book

The cover of Magnus Byne’s book

In the same year, 1656, that he printed Magnus Byne’s book, William Bentley was involved in a case concerning his right to print Bibles, which he claimed were ‘being for the fairnesse of the print, and truth of the Editions generally approved of to be the best that ever were printed’. According to one source, Bentley ‘enjoyed the favour of the interregnum government’ and (rather like John Bartlett) specialised in political and religious works, ‘printing very few texts of imaginative literature’. As for Andrew Crooke, he has been described as ‘one of the leading publishers of his day’, issuing significant texts of English Renaissance drama and producing important editions of works by Ben Jonson and Sir Thomas Browne.

I can’t help thinking that it was through one of these London publishing contacts – whether John Bartlett himself, or William Bentley or Andrew Crooke – that Magnus Byne arranged for his own son, John, my 8 x great grandfather, to be apprenticed as a stationer, probably some time in the late 1660s.

Gabriel Fowle: a schoolmaster in sixteenth-century Lewes

My revised transcription of the will of my 13 x great grandfather, Gabriel Fowle of Lewes, Sussex, has confirmed that he was indeed the master of the Free Grammar School there. Here is the crucial passage in Gabriel’s will:

Item I wyll to be gyven amonge the scholers of the ffrye schole namely soche have been with me a quarter of a yere iijs iijd a peny a pece, as far as yt wyll serve as to pray for me. Item I wyll to John Cotmott the yonger, Andrewe baran Edward Pelham John Raynold & John ffeharbar for theyr dylygence about me vs amonge them, equally to be devyded & all theyse v to take advantage of theyr peny apece, yf ther be under xl scholers beside them.

I’ve been in email contact with David Arscott, author of Floreat Lewys, 500 Years of Lewes Old Grammar School who confirms that his book refers to Gabriel Fowle as headmaster of the school during the reign of Queen Mary.

A Tudor schoolroom: Stratford Grammar School, attended by William Shakespeare

A Tudor schoolroom: Stratford Grammar School, attended by William Shakespeare

Before we explore Gabriel’s life and career in Lewes, it might be helpful to summarise what we know about his origins and early life. Most sources agree that Gabriel was the son of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, on the Kent-Sussex border, who made his will in 1522, appointing Gabriel as co-executor with his mother Elizabeth. I’ve come to the conclusion that he is not the ‘Gabriel mercer’ mentioned early in the will, who is to receive a ‘good heffer’ when he reaches the age of eighteen. This bequest may have been the source of the claim in some sources that Gabriel was born in about 1507, whereas I now believe that he was born somewhat earlier, perhaps around 1500 or even in the late 1490s.

The name of the property bequeathed to Gabriel Fowle

The name of the property bequeathed to Gabriel Fowle

Nicholas bequeaths to his son Gabriel ‘my ii messuages with the gardens with a medo and a orcharde called [——–] the whiche I hold in fee formme of the prior and covent of ledes’. The name of the property (see above) is difficult to decipher: the first letter looks like a ‘w’, the second is probably a vowel (‘i’ or ‘e’), the middle consonants could be ‘lh’ or possibly ‘th’, and the final abbreviated group of letters (indicated by the symbol above them) might end in ‘n’. It would be useful to have access to a list of field names in and around Lamberhurst against which to check this. Leeds priory owned many properties in Kent, including the manor of Lamberhurst, until its dissolution some time in the late 1530s.

This bequest is dependent on Gabriel ‘paying suche charges as it is charged with all so that my saide son gabriell shall suffre my said wif his moder to have suche parte of that same messuage & gardene as I have now in occupying for all the terme of her lif’ and provided that ‘my sayde son gabriell shall suffre my saide son Thomas to have all suche yeres (?) as he hath taken of the saide partt of the saide messuage gardens & medow as the said Thomas hath now in farme paying unto hym and here iil of lawfull money of England furthermore’.

Countryside near Lamberhurst (via

Countryside near Lamberhurst (via

Although Gabriel is named as the executor of Nicholas’ will, he seems to have been the youngest of the three sons who are mentioned as beneficiaries. His brother John is to receive a number of properties, including Great Petfold and Little Petfold, on the death of his mother Elizabeth, while his other brother Thomas is bequeathed perhaps the greater part of Nicholas’ lands, including the Byne (or Vyne?) in Lamberhurst town and Pyfers, Paldings, Overmead and Hogwood in the wider parish. Gabriel’s bequest of a single property is quite modest by comparison.

In an earlier post I mentioned that a case in Chancery puts Gabriel Fowle in Lewes by 1529 at the latest. However, I’ve now found a reference to him in the Lay Subsidy Roll for 1524-5 – i.e. the year after his father’s death. Gabriel is listed as resident in the borough of Southover, where he is assessed as earning (?) £2 (per annum?) not quite the lowest amount in the list, but a long way behind the prior of Lewes at £18 and Thomas Puggeslye (of whom more later) at £40.

I had always assumed that Gabriel moved to Southover specifically to teach at the Free Grammar School, but I’ve begun to wonder about this. If he was master of the school in 1554, it would mean he had taught there for thirty years – and that he had been appointed as quite a young man. My fellow researcher Bill Green suggests that Gabriel might have been come to Southover in order to marry. Certainly it would seem that the extensive lands in Ringmer and Glynde that Gabriel bequeathed in his will were probably gained through marriage. The question is: to whom? I’m currently searching his will, and other documents, for clues as to his wife’s surname. I think there’s a good chance that her first name was Agnes – the name that Gabriel gave to his daughter, and that his son Magnus gave his daughter, my 11 x great grandmother.

Ringmer, Sussex

Ringmer, Sussex

The other unsolved mystery surrounding Gabriel’s early adulthood is: where did he acquire the education that prepared him for the role of schoolmaster? I can find no trace of him in the alumni records for Oxford or Cambridge. I wonder what kind of training or qualification a grammar school master needed in the early 16th century?

The Free Grammar School at Southover had been founded out of a bequest in the will of Agnes Morley, who died in 1512, just ten years or so before Gabriel arrived in Lewes. The will includes provision for the employment of a ‘scolemaister which shalbee a preest able to teche grammer in the said Free Scole, if such a preest able to canne bee had, or els to put in a seculer man whiche ys able teche grammer in the meane tyme in his stede’. There was clearly a close relationship between the new school and the neighbouring Cluniac Priory of St Pancras, since Agnes Morley wills that the prior is to be involved in organising the payment of the wages to the schoolmaster and to an usher. The schoolmaster is to receive ‘xli by the yere’ and the ‘receyvour’ appointed by the prior to handle payments is to ensure that the ‘messuage at Watergate, that is to say, the scolehouse and the house that the scolemaister and the ussher dwellith in, and closure about the same’, are ‘well maytenyned and repaired in all maner condition’.

Elsewhere in her will Agnes Morley bequeaths lands in Southover to ‘Thomas Puggislee the elder and the heirs of his body lawfully begotten’, and if he fails to produce an heir, then ‘that al the saide landes and tenementes shall remayne to the use and behofe of the Free Scole at Watergate, and for the mayteynyng of Saynte Erasmes Chapel in the church of Southovere’. Presumably Thomas was a relative – perhaps the father? – of ‘Sir Andrew Puggeslie’, the curate of St Michael’s church in Lewes and later vicar of Ringmer, who witnesssed Gabriel Fowle’s will.

David Arscott informs me that the original building of the Free Grammar School was in the corner of the grounds of what would become Southover Grange. There is still a Watergate Lane nearby. The school would have been very close to the grounds of Lewes priory.

Tudor schoolmaster and pupils (via

Tudor schoolmaster and pupils (via

The names of some of the scholars left money by Gabriel Fowle are familiar from local records of the period. ‘John Cotmott the younger’ may be a relative (the son?) of the man of that name who was assessed in the Lewes Lay Subsidy Roll of 1524-5, and who seems to have been quite wealthy. From Graham Mayhew’s sumptous recent book on Lewes priory, I learn that a John Cotmott was the priory’s surveyor and its second highest paid servant at the time of the Dissolution. He left several houses in his will of 1559. Edward Pelham may have been a member of the noble Pelham family of Sussex, possibly the son or brother of Sir Nicholas Pelham. As for Andrew Baran (Baron?) and John Raynold, there are a number of people with those surnames in contemporary local records. Previously I thought that ‘ffeharbar’ was a misspelling of Fitzherbert, but I see that a Henry Ferherberd was listed in the Lay Subsidy Rolls for Ringmer.

Dunstan Sawyer, vicar of Ringmer during Mary’s reign, and one of the overseers appointed by Gabriel Fowle, seems to have remained a loyal Catholic. In his will of 1559, a year after Queen Elizabeth’s accession, he, like his late friend Gabriel Fowle, asked for masses to be said for his soul.

Some of the other name that occur in Gabriel’s will – such as Nicholas Aptott of Ringmer Green, William Marle, John Fortune and John Revet – might provide valuable clues to his family connections in the area. I’m also intrigued by the fact that two members of the Brown family are mentioned by Gabriel. He leaves money to a certain Thomas Brown, and elsewhere decrees that his moveable goods are to be equally divided between his son Magnus and daughter, Agnes, ‘with thadvyse of my overseers and Edward Brown.’ Is this an indication that Gabriel was closely connected to the Brown family, perhaps by marriage? Might Thomas Brown be the man of that name, from the parish of St John the Baptist, Southover, who made his own will four years later, in 1558?

The will of Gabriel Fowle (died 1555): a new transcript and new information

My exploration of the life of Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark, has thrown considerable light on his life but produced no conclusive evidence about his links to my own Fowle ancestors. I’ve discovered that Bartholomew lived until at least 1553 but whether he was, as some sources claim, the brother of my 13 x great grandfather Gabriel Fowle of Southover near Lewes remains unproven.

The home of Anne of Cleves: a surviving Tudor hours in Southover, Lewes

The home of Anne of Cleves: a surviving Tudor house in Southover, Lewes

Researching Bartholomew’s life demonstrated again the considerable uncertainty that surrounds the early generations of the Fowle family. I want to return to that early history at some point, but for now I’m focusing on those ancestors about whom I can write with more confidence. I’m fairly sure, for example, that Magnus Fowle of Mayfield, Sussex, who died in 1595, was my 12 x great grandfather. His only surviving daughter Agnes married Edward Byne of Burwash and they were my 11 x great grandparents. Nor do I have any doubts that Magnus was the son of Gabriel Fowle of Southover: Gabriel’s will of 1554 mentions a son named Magnus, a fairly uncommon name, and Magnus’ own will refers to properties in Ringmer and Glynde that were almost certainly inherited from Gabriel.

Like his supposed brother Bartholomew, Gabriel Fowle is an intriguing figure. If he was indeed the son of Nicholas Fowle of Lamberhurst, on the Kent-Sussex border, then at some point between his birth in about 1507 and 1529 at the very latest (i.e. by the time he was in his early twenties), Gabriel moved about thirty miles south-west to Lewes, where he would remain until his death in 1555 at the age of about 48. According to Walter Renshaw’s history of the Byne family, Gabriel’s will reveals that he was the master of the Free Grammar School in Lewes. Until now, I’ve had to take that claim on trust, since I could find no evidence in my own copy of Gabriel’s will to support it. However, having come across some transcribed extracts from the will online, I realised that two key sentences that I had been unable to decipher contained the vital clue. Armed with this information, I returned to the original will and decided to produce a new transcription.

Springtime at Southover Grange, Lewes (via

Springtime at Southover Grange, Lewes (via

The transcript below updates some of the details in the version I posted here, and I’ve highlighted the two key sentences in bold. A question mark [?] indicates uncertainty about a particular word or phrase, while [—] indicates a word that I was unable to decipher. I’ll have more to say about the will, and other new information that I’ve been able to unearth about Gabriel, in another post.

In the Name of god amen the 27th day of January a[nn]o d[omi]ni 1554 I Gabryell Fowlle off the p[ar]yshe of Southover next Lewes in the countye of Sussex within the dio[cese] of chychystre. hole of mynde & of good remembraunce thanks be to god do orday[n] & make this my Testam[en]t & Last wyll in man[ne]r & fforme ffollowynge. ffyrst I bequeath my soule to allmyghtie god and my bodye to be buryed within the churche yarde of the p[ar]yshe of Southover aforesayd Item I gyve to the hygh altare of Ryngmer xxd. Item I wyll x preistes yf they can be gott to celebrate & say masse for my sowlle & all crysten sowles, & to be honestly recompensed by my executor. It[em] I give my new graylle Imprynted to the churche of Ryngmer. Item I give my wrytten masse book to the church of Southover. I gyve John Harman my sonne in law my best gowen & my best Iacket. Item I do gyve to Jane Bryan my old servaunt that my housse & garden called pecketts in Southover, ffor terme of her lyff, & after her decease to remayne to my daughter agnes harman, & to her heires of her bodye lawfully begotten. Item I gyve to agnes harman my daughter that my peece of grounde callyd ffennes garden lying in the p[ar]yshe of Glynd together with one acre in the gores [?] in Glynde also, to her use for terme of her lyff, & after her death to remayne to Magnus Fowlle my sonne and to his heires of his bodye Lawfully begotten. I wyll my executor to bestowe at my buryall in monye amonge the poutrye of Ringmer, Lewes & Southover by thadvyse of my overseers xs. And as muche at my monethes mynd. Item I wyll all my Lands & Ten[emen]ts Lyenge & beyng in Southover otherwyse then granted to Jane Bryan as ys aforesayd, to John Harman and Agnes hys wyff & to the heires of theyr bodyes lawfully begotten, Provyded & allwayes excepted that the same John shall not clayme any further Sumes of monye nor monye worthe whiche I p[ro]mysed hym for the maryage of my daughter. So that yf the sayd John chaunce to clayme any further Sumes off monye as afore ys sayd, Then my exec[utor] to pay to the same John xx [—] in redye monye & then my sayd exec[utor] to enter to upon all the sayd Lands in these forme as ys aforesayd. Item I wyll my daughter agnes to have my iwells of sylver that ys a [—] with and a bande of sylver & gylte, [—] of my silver spones, her mothers best harness gyrdle, a payr of corall bedes gawdyd with sylver. Item I wyll all my moveable goods, unbequeathed (sauyd [?] books) to be equally devyded betwen my daughter agnes and my exec[utor], with thadvyse of my overseers & Edward Brown. Item I wyll that Jane Bryan my s[er] vaunt have one of my chestes at Ryngmer, with locke and key & a payr of potts [?]. Item I wyll all my Lands in Ryngmer & Glynde otherwyse than ys above specyfyed to Magnus Fowlle my sonne & to his heires of his bodye Lawfully begotten to gether with all suche tytle & ryght whiche I have or owght to have, or by any meanes in tyme to come may have, concerning my right and tytle in Sussex or in Kent, And if yt shall chance my sayd Sonne Magnus to dye without heires of his bodye Lawfully begotten, Then I wyll all my sayd lands & Ten[amen]ts ryyghts & [—] bothe within Kent & Sussex to remayne soly to my daughter Agnes & to her heires of her bodye Lawfully begotten, & yf she fortune to dye without heires of her Bodye Lawfully begotten. Then I wyll all my sayd Lands & [—] to be sold by my overseers, & the Summes of monye to be bestowed by my overseers upon almese howsses, high wayes & suche other other deads & workes of charytye and specyally toward the reparacions of the church of Ryngmer. Item I make my sonne Magnus Fowlle, my sole executor. And Dunstane Sawyer now vicar of Ryngmer & Nycholas Aptott of Ryngmer grene my overseers & the same Dunstane to have for hys labor my second best gown, & the same Nycholas to have an angell or xs of monye. Item I wyll that my overseers shall have full & perfect authoryty to take advyse of Lerned counsel, & to alter & change or otherwyse sett any clause or sentence which might be or ought to be more formally made in any thynge toward the performance of thys my Last wyll, So yt allways be & shalbe toward the strengthynge of the ryghts of my children. as my wyll ys. Item I gyve to all my godchyldren xyd apece. So yt be asked. Item I gyve to John Harman my daughters sonne, a cowe [?], & to Elizabeth Harman my daughters daughter a sylver spone. Item I wyll to be gyven amonge the scholers of the ffrye schole namely soche have been with me a quarter of a yere iijs iijd a peny a pece, as far as yt wyll serve as to pray for me. Item I wyll to John Cotmott the yonger, Andrewe baran Edward Pelham John Raynold & John ffeharbar for theyr dylygence about me vs amonge them, equally to be devyded & all theyse v to take advantage of theyr peny apece, yf ther be under xl scholers beside them. Item I give to Thomas Brown xxd. provided allway yt yf that fortune my sayd oversers to fayle at suche tyme as my land to be sold for Lacke of heires of my children as ys aforesaid, That then I wyll that the churchewardens of the paryshe of Ryngmer for that tyme beynge, shall have ffull power & pfect auctorytye with thadvyse of the other honest men of the p[ar]yshe to sell my sayd Lands & to bestowe the monye thereof, accordynge to the fforme of this my last wyll, as my sayd oversers shuld have done. Item I wyll a copye of my wyll to remayne in p[ar]chement [?] in the churche of Ryngmer, or some other safe keepyinge for the same entent [?] Item I wyll that yf yt shall fortune my oversers to take any payne in rydynge or goynge to se this my wyll fulfylld, they to be honestly recompensed by my exec[utor]. Item I wyll that my overseers shall see this my wyll p[ro]vyd & registered. To all this witnesseth Sr Andrewe Puggeslye. Wyllm Marle, James West, John ffortune, & John Revet [?] with other. S[ig]n[e]d. Jny. [—] echibit [?] Roxia [?] de Marsfield iy die augusti a[nn]o d[omi]ni 1555 [—] ad valore [—]