A Treasure Trove of Family Wills

Sometimes the handwriting is almost illegible, the archaic language difficult to interpret, but I do love grappling with a last Will and Testament.

I recently came across a treasure trove of family wills which helped me identify titles and properties and make some important family links.

The four Bulkeley sisters died within an eight year period – Bridget in 1775, Anne and Elizabeth in 1778 and Eleanora in 1782. Bridget was a spinster, the other three all married but only Anne had children.

Bridget, the eldest sister, was baptised on July 18, 1705 at St Martin in the Fields and at the end of her life was living in Highgate.  In the 18th century Highgate was a small, country town some five miles away from London. Set high above its neighbouring parishes Highgate offered a healthy environment in which to live for those wealthy enough to afford the property prices, much like today really.

Views of Highgate

When Bridget wrote her will on April 30, 1761 she had no need to identify her address, ‘I Bridget Bulkeley of Highgate’ sufficed. Today it is difficult to identify where she might have lived, if the property still survives.

Bridget’s will was my first find and was the key that unlocked the family relationships. After the usual preamble, Bridget announces bequests to her sisters.

‘I give to my sister Ellinora Maria Hervey wife of George Hervey of Tiddington in the County of Oxford Esq and to the said George Hervey one hundred pounds between them I give to my sister Ann Bertie widow of the late Reverend Dr William Bertie of Allbury in the County of Oxford the sum of one hundred pounds Item I give to my sister Elizabeth Price wife of William Price of Rhiwlas in the County of Flintshire Esq and to the said William Price the sum of one hundred pounds between them.’

Then comes a generous bequest to her nieces.

‘Item I give to my three nieces Fanny Bertie Sophia Bertie and Ann Bertie the daughters of the said late Dr William Bertie and his wife to each of them the sum of one thousand pounds to be paid to them respectively at their respective ages of twenty one years…’

To her nephews James and Richard Bertie she gives the sum of £100 when they reach the age of 21 and arrangements are made should any of the nephews and nieces ‘dye.’

Bridget leaves bequests to her three servants. Mary Parott receives £100 plus an additional £10 to spend on mourning attire. Ann Howard and Catherine Pinock receive £10 and £5 respectively for ‘mourning.’

Bridget appoints her brother in law George Hervey and John Jones, an ironmonger from the Parish of St Martins, to be executors of her Will but by the time of her death in 1775 both had also died. Administration of her will, therefore, went to her sister Anne.

Bridget was buried on November 20, 1775 in the vault beneath the Church of St Michael, Highgate – not the present church but the old Highgate Chapel, originally a hermitage chapel.

the Old Chapel Highgate

The Old Chapel, Highgate

For all her married life Anne lived in the Oxfordshire parish of Albury where her husband William Bertie was Rector at the parish church. The baptisms of their children appear in the parish registers and when her sister Eleanora married George Hervey on September 19, 1749 the service was conducted by William. In 1767, several years after William’s death, Anne moved to Wales where she lived with her sister Elizabeth at Daynol in the County of Flintshire.

In her will Anne makes reference to several large sums of money – £2,000 from her marriage settlement, £1,500 left to her by her ‘Uncle Abingdon’ and a further sum of £1, 438 0s 7d, totalling £4,938 0s 7d. Her three daughters were bequeathed varying amounts of money. Frances receives £775 (£100 of which was left to her by her ‘Grandmother Bulkeley.’) Sophia receives £375 while Anne is bequeathed £775. Sophia was married so possibly received an endowment at the time of her wedding, while Anne and Frances remained spinsters. Everything else went to her son Richard who she appointed as her executor.

Elizabeth’s will made on July 6, 1778, less than six months after Anne’s death, is the briefest of all four documents. Her first instruction is that she wishes to be buried with her late husband in the parish church of Llanfawr in Merioneth. Next she leaves £20 to Hester Bridge, who is one of the witnesses on both Anne and her own will, and then £20 to her ‘servant maid Catherine Humphrey.’ Everything else she wraps up very neatly leaving the ‘rest residue and remainder of my personal estate and effects of what nature or kind soever’ to her nephew Richard Bertie and unmarried nieces Frances Eleanor and Anne Bertie.

What is noteworthy about Bridget, Anne and Elizabeth’s wills is the absence of any personal bits and pieces, jewellery, paintings, books. it’s all about the money.

Eleanora Maria was living at Rivers Street in the City of Bath at the time she made her will and at last there are some personal items. She also begins with instructions as to her burial. She wants a private funeral and to be buried with her late husband George in the vault at Chilton parish church. The three Bertie nieces are left £50 each as is their brother Richard, who this time dodges the burden of being made executor. She leaves mourning rings to the Earl of Abingdon and several friends, and small cash bequest to her servants, Samuel and Elizabeth Badrick and Fanny Stone on condition they are still in her employ at the time of her death.



Rivers Street, Bath


Eleanora later added a codicil to her will with a bequest of £50 made to William Montague, a family friend.

Why doesn’t Eleanora have the same disposable income enjoyed by her sisters? Eleanora was the second wife of George Hervey in a marriage that had not produced any children. The Hervey estate went, therefore, to his daughter from his first marriage, Barbara Hervey.

The four sisters along with two brothers were the children of Richard Bulkeley, 4th Viscount Bulkeley of Cashel and his wife Lady Bridget Bertie. The Bulkeley family hailed from Anglesey and was one of the most powerful families in North Wales. Richard Bulkeley, 4th Viscount Bulkeley, a staunch Tory and Jacobite sympathiser, was described as a ‘vigorous personality, but such was the cumulation of offices in his own person that the squires of the western commotes broke out in revolt.’ *

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey

The girls mother Lady Bridget Bertie, also came from a wealthy influential family.  The Bulkeley/Bertie parents were therefore keen to maintain family connections when it came to the marriage of their daughters. Anne married the Rev William Bertie, the brother of Willoughby Bertie, 3rd Earl of Abingdon.  Elizabeth was married to William Price, the son of Martha Bulkeley. Martha was the sister of Richard Bulkeley, 3rd Viscount Bulkeley who was Elizabeth’s grandfather.

Bridget, Viscountess Bulkeley

But how do the four Bulkeley sisters figure in the St John family history and Lydiard Park. The Bertie name may give you a clue. This was the family who fought hard to get their hands on Eleanor Lee’s fortune, much to the chagrin of her grandmother, Anne, Countess of Rochester, formerly Anne St. John.

Anne St John was born at Lydiard Park, the daughter of Sir John St John 1st Baronet and his wife Anne Leighton Ta dah!


*Thomas Richards, D.Litt;, (1878-1962) Bangor published 1959


Anne, Mrs Wharton

Have you ever heard of the 17th century poet and dramatist Anne Wharton? No, neither had I.

The only work published during her lifetime was an elegy to her uncle John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. After her death there was a short period during which her work was celebrated, but after that she was largely forgotten until in 1997 when Germaine Greer and Susan Hastings edited a publication called The Surviving Works of Anne Wharton.

The younger of two daughters, Anne was born on July 20, 1659 after the death from smallpox of her father Sir Henry Lee, 3rd Baronet of Ditchley, Oxfordshire.  She was baptised at All Saints Church, Spelsbury, Oxfordshire and her mother died just ten days later. The two little orphaned sisters were raised by their paternal grandmother, Anne Wilmot, Countess of Rochester.

Anne Mrs Wharton

Anne, Mrs Wharton

In 1664 Anne, Countess of Rochester, was appointed Groom of the Stole to Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, the first wife of the King’s brother James. Until the death of the Duchess in 1671 Anne Rochester spent much of her time at court with her two little granddaughters in tow. A court described as “extravagantly and exhibitionistically licentious” by Greer and Hastings,

Anne and Eleanor received an education befitting their status, possibly joining the Princess Mary for French lessons at Court. They would have received lessons in music, dancing, writing and needlework and Anne was known to have spoken Italian.

When not at Court, the Countess of Rochester remained living at the  home of her first husband, Sir Francis Henry Lee, in Ditchley with her extended Lee and Wilmot family.

By 1665 the sisters were living at the newly repaired and restored Wilmot family seat, Adderbury House, which had suffered under the occupation of parliamentarian troops during the Civil War.

The original house was small and Anne Wilmot remodelled the property in 1661 on which she is said to have spent £2,000. In a 1665 tax assessment there were 14 hearths recorded in the property and an inventory drawn up in 1678 lists Great and Small Halls, Drawing Room, Great Room above stairs, Great Square Chamber, Lesser Dining Parlour and eleven other rooms, excluding the offices.

Aged just 12 and 10 years old, Eleanor and Anne bought their first property under the supervision of their trustee Sir Ralph Verney, a 40 acre estate called Chelsea Park. The sisters had inherited a considerable fortune from their mother, Anne Danvers, making them each a very marriageable proposition.

Anne St John, Countess of Rochester

Anne St John, Dowager Countess of Rochester

An entry in the parish registers of St Mary’s, Adderbury on September 16, 1673 records the marriage of the Honble Thomas Wharton Esq., eldest son of the Lord Wharton and Anne Lee, the younger daughter of Sir Henry Lee. Thomas was 25, Anne just 14 years old.

The minimum legal age at which a girl could marry in England was then 12 years old, although in practise this was unusual.

Anne’s husband Thomas Wharton had already earned a reputation as a rake and even her uncle, the licentious John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester was horrified that his mother was brokering a marriage with the profligate Whig politician, but perhaps Rochester had his own agenda.

Charles II wanted Anne to be married to a member of the Arundell family. Richard Arundell, 1st Baron Arundell of Trerice had served in the Royalist army during the Civil War and had fought at Edgehill and Lansdowne. He was raised to the peerage after the Restoration in recognition of the support he and his father had given Charles I. It was probably Richard’s son John the King had in mind for Anne.

But Lady Wilmot had set her sights on the fortune of Thomas Wharton. The irony of this is that Anne brought a dowry of £10,000 to the marriage and an income of £2,500 a year. On her death she left everything to Wharton.

Wharton was believed to have infected his young wife with syphilis, the great scourge of the 17th century, but Anne’s death sentence may have already been delivered before her marriage.  After her death in 1685, her brother in law, Goodwin Wharton, wrote an explosive autobiographical expose. The manuscript was never published but is held by the British Museum.

Goodwin claimed that he had had an affair with Anne but that he had not been the only one. He wrote of how before her marriage (remember, aged 14) Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough, would bribe a servant to admit him into the bedroom Anne shared with her sister. He also claimed that Anne had ‘lain with long by her uncle, my Lord Rochester.’ It would seem likely that Anne had been abused and assaulted before her marriage and the candidates for infecting her with syphilis were several.

What kind of person was she? John Carswell author of The Old Cause: Three Biographical Studies in Whiggerism published in 1954, described her as a ‘demure, pious child’ while other accounts of Anne’s character have been somewhat derogatory and inaccurate and recorded to enhance the reputation of her husband. Considering her prominent position in court life she is something of a shadowy figure, seldom noted at social events when it could be safely assumed she was present. The only continuing interest in her appears to be in that of the inheritance she shared with her sister Eleanor, a battleground between their husband’s families and their grandmother Anne Rochester.

Copyright Lydiard House / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl Rochester

There was evidence of Anne’s frail health even before she married. In August 1672 she went to Bath to take the treatments where she stayed for three months, a particularly long time which would have cost a considerable amount of money. Aged thirteen and just months before her wedding, Anne was suffering from a very sore throat. She soon began to experience problems with her eyes and in 1678 travelled to Paris for treatment. Two years later she returned to Paris suffering for convulsions (involuntary muscle spasms) which increased in frequency and severity.

Greer and Hastings propose a number of theories concerning Anne’s ill health, and make a convincing case that she was infected with syphilis long before her marriage to Wharton. However, they point out that her symptoms could also be attributable to epileptiform seizures, tuberculosis and even as a consequence of her medical treatment where mercury was commonly used.

Anne’s last days were spent wracked by convulsions and in great pain. She died at Adderbury on October 29, 1685 aged just 26 years old. She was buried in the Wharton family vault beneath the Chancel at St Mary Magdalen, Upper Winchendon.

Anne left £3,000 to Hester, John Wilmot’s daughter by the actress Elizabeth Barry, the rest of her fortune she left to her husband.

Thomas Wharton succeeded to the title Marquis of Wharton in 1715, some 30 years after Anne’s death. Anne’s correct title was therefore plain Mrs Wharton, not Marchioness of Wharton as she is frequently called in books and articles and which has caused confusion between other women named Anne in the Wharton family.

Even during her lifetime Anne enjoyed an extensive critical readership and the admiration of a network of professional writers including among them Aphra Behn. The first collected edition of her works was published in 1997 by Germaine Greer and Susan Hastings and in 2004 more work was discovered including 11 poems previously unknown.

Copyright Lydiard House / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Sir Walter St John

So what is the connection to the St John family, although I’m sure you have probably worked it out by now. In the summer of 1664 Eleanor and Anne accompanied their grandmother on a visit to Lydiard Park where they stayed with Lady Rochester’s younger brother Sir Walter St. John. Sir Walter had been one of the trustees acting on behalf of the young Anne Lee during the marriage arrangements. Anne’s grandmother, Anne Wilmot, Countess of Rochester was the daughter of Sir John St John 1st Baronet, and his wife Anne Leighton who lived at Lydiard Park.


The Surviving Works of Anne Wharton edited, with textual notes and commentary, by G. Greer & S. Hastings published by Stump Cross Books 1997

Charlotte Calvert, Lady Baltimore

How does Maryland, one of the Thirteen Colonies on the Eastern seaboard that came together to form the United States, have a connection with the St John family from Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire?

Lady Charlotte Lee was born on March 13, 1678 (Old Style) at St James’s Park at the house acquired for her parents by her grandfather Charles II. Her mother was Lady Charlotte Fitzroy, Charles’s favourite daughter by his mistress Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine. Her father was Edward Henry Lee, 1st Earl of Lichfield. Charlotte, who was the eldest of some 20 children, was born when her mother was fourteen years old and her father fifteen.

Lady Charlotte Lee

Many online sources describe this portrait as being of Lady Charlotte, but it is more reliably believed to be that of her grandmother Barbara Villiers, Countess Castlemaine.

In 1699 Charlotte married Benedict Leonard Calvert. It was his great grandfather, George Calvert, who founded Maryland as a safe haven for persecuted English Catholics in 1632. Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore (Benedict’s grandfather) was granted a Charter for the new colony to be named Maryland in honour of Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.

However, the Calvert’s lost their Maryland inheritance in 1688 when it became a Royal Colony following the events of the Glorious Revolution and the accession to the English throne of William and Mary.


Benedict Leonard Calvert, 4th Baron Baltimore

Within a year of their marriage Charlotte had given birth to the first of at least six children, including a set of twins. In these still turbulent religious times Charlotte’s father, the Catholic Earl of Lichfield, had endeavoured to steer his daughter along a purely Protestant path. However, after the birth of her first son in 1699 Charlotte converted to Catholicism.

Charlotte and Benedict separated in 1705 after an unhappy and abusive marriage. Salacious rumours circulated citing his cruelty and their mutual infidelities. It was said Charlotte had born a child in 1706 by her lover Colonel Robert Fielding, who was at the time bigamously married to Charlotte’s grandmother Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine.

In 1711 Benedict’s petition to Parliament for a divorce from Charlotte failed. He died four years later having only months before succeeded to the title of 4th Baron Baltimore on the death of his father. Having claimed her title of Lady Baltimore, Charlotte quickly remarried.

Her second husband was the entrepreneurial Christopher Crowe who held a diplomatic post in Italy while also acting as an agent acquiring works of art for the English nobility.

The couple married in Geneva in August 1715 but made their home at Woodford Hall, a property set in parkland with surrounding woods and farmland on the edge of Epping Forest. Charlotte had four children by her second marriage – Christopher, Catherine, Charlotte and George.

In a post nuptial agreement drawn up in 1719 Christopher declared the property in trust for his lifetime and after that to his wife the Rt Hon. Charlotte, Lady Baltimore for her lifetime but sadly Charlotte would only live another two years. She died at the age of 42, some sources say from rheumatism, others from arthritis.

In the 19th century Woodford Hall was the childhood home of poet and political activist and arts and crafts legend, William Morris. Demolished at the beginning of the 20th century the Woodford Parish Memorial Hall in Woodford High Road stands on the original site, next to St Mary’s Church where Charlotte was buried in 1721.


Washington Monument Mt. Vernon, Baltimore – From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

The Maryland Colony was restored to the Calvert family’s control by George I, and Charlotte’s eldest son Charles inherited the title to Maryland aged just fifteen, on the death of his father and grandfather. He held the office of Proprietary Governor from 1732-1733.

In 1727 Charles appointed his younger brother Benedict Leonard Calvert (Charlotte’s second son) Governor, an office he held until 1731. Leonardtown is named in his honour.

Charlotte’s third son, Edward Henry Calvert held the office of Commissary General and President of the Council of Maryland and the Calvert/Maryland continued through to the next generation (more to follow).


The three surviving daughters of Sir John St John 1st Baronet and his wife Anne Leighton kneel at the feel of their parents’ memorial.

But, have you worked out the St John, Lydiard Tregoze connection? Well actually there are two! On her maternal side Charlotte was the granddaughter of Barbara Villiers, Countess Castlemaine who in turn was the granddaughter of Barbara St John (d1672) of Lydiard Tregoze. Charlotte’s father, Edward Henry Lee, was the grandson of Anne St John (1614-1696). Anne was Barbara’s niece, the daughter of her brother Sir John St John 1st Baronet. A portrait of Barbara hangs in the State Bedroom in Lydiard House. Barbara also appears on the St John Polyptych in St Mary’s Church and Anne is one of the kneeling figures on her parent’s tomb. Both memorials were commissioned by Sir John.


The six St John sisters.


Elizabeth Knollys, Lady Leighton

The Knollys family were about as close to Elizabeth I as it was possible to be.

Katherine Knollys was her first cousin, the daughter of Mary Boleyn, and possibly even her half sister. There is a much disputed rumour that Katherine was the product of her mother’s affair with Henry VIII. The King, however, did not acknowledge Katherine as his daughter, but he did put a lot of opportunities and wealth in her way. Perhaps neither Mary nor the King could be entirely sure, but there is no denying a strong physical resemblance.


Katherine, Lady Knollys

Katherine’s husband Sir Francis Knollys served three Tudor monarchs in roles varying from Privy Councillor to Governor of Portsmouth and guardian of Mary, Queen of Scots. A staunch puritan, he worked tirelessly for Elizabeth I at great personal sacrifice.

Katherine served in the young Princess Elizabeth’s household before she acceded to the throne and records reveal that Katherine and her husband Francis took part in the ceremony and celebrations for Elizabeth’s coronation and that coronation livery was granted to Lettice and another sister, Elizabeth Knollys. From 1558 Katherine served as a Lady of the Bedchamber, accompanied by her daughters, including young Elizabeth Knollys, then aged just nine years old, who served as a Maid of the Chamber.

The Queen’s relationship with the couples children was also close and complicated and in the case of their daughter Lettice, well quite frankly, a little weird.

Lettice Knollys

Lettice Knollys

Lettice had an affair with and later married the Queen’s favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Essex, causing the Queen to call her a She-Wolf, among other insults, and to banish her from Court.

At the end of her life the Queen’s last favourite was none other than Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex and Lettice’s son, by her first husband Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex. I know, bizarre, and the Queen never forgave the beautiful red head who bore a passing resemblance to herself.

But let’s return to the life and times of Katherine’s seventh child and fourth daughter, Elizabeth born upon ‘trynte even’ 1549. Henry VIII’s 12 year old son was on the throne, although the boy’s uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, was Protector and called all the royal shots.


Elizabeth Leighton formerly Knollys

Sir Francis was a Justice of the Peace in Oxfordshire at this time, so it is most likely Elizabeth was born at the Knollys family home Rotherfield Greys. In 1557, during the reign of Mary Tudor, Katherine left the country to join her husband in religious exile in Germany, taking her five youngest children with her; most probably Elizabeth, Robert, Richard, Francis and Anne.

A year later the family returned – Katherine was appointed Chief Lady of the Privy Chamber and the future looked safe – well as safe as it ever looked in Tudor times.

Elizabeth spent pretty much her whole life in the confines of the claustrophobic court where the women employed to care for the Queen’s every need had to apply for a licence to be absent from court for more than two weeks.

Positions at court were all about status with the top posts reserved for ladies from the upper echelons of society.

By 1566 Elizabeth was one of the Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber, the day room where the Queen spent much of her time. Elizabeth had daily access to the Queen, to confide in and to influence her and it is known that she was involved in privy council business and decision making.

In 1578 Elizabeth married Thomas Leighton; a somewhat late marriage for both of them. she was 28 and he was 43.

Thomas had been a Gentleman of the Household for ten years before which he had served as a soldier and had seen service at the Seige of Rouen in 1562 and in defence of the garrison at Le Havre a year later. In 1569 he had commanded 500 harquebusiers during the Northern Rebellion and in 1570 he was appointed Governor of Jersey and Guernsey.

Elizabeth, however, remained at court for most of their married life. She had three children, a son Thomas and two daughters, Elizabeth born in 1583 and Anne in 1587.


Anne St John formerly Leighton

When Catherine Middleton became engaged to Prince William in 2010 a family tree was published purporting that both Catherine and William could trace their common ancestry to Elizabeth Knollys, Lady Leighton and her husband Sir Thomas. William descended from their younger daughter Anne who married Sir John St John 1st Baronet and Catherine from the elder one Elizabeth.

Unfortunately, in a pamphlet written in 1890 by an over zealous family historian, Canon James Davenport, who jumped to one too many conclusions, as it is so easy to do, and traced the Davenport family through the Talbots to the elder Leighton daughter. Then in 2010 it was republished all over again, this time in the Daily Mail, and I for one became very excited – a second, sideways link from the young Royals to Lydiard House and the St John family.

Sadly the error was quickly exposed – but the good news is there still remains a St John, Lydiard Park link between William and Anne!





Elizabeth St John – Puritan pioneer

Established in 1607 the Jamestown colony had been without suitable marriageable women for 12 years when the enterprising Virginia Company began recruiting. Dr James Horn, president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation and adviser on the series says the women who volunteered for this scheme had a sense of idealism and optimism and came largely from the middle and lower middle classes.

The colonisation of Lynn, more than 600 miles north along the eastern seaboard, began soon after the settlement of Jamestown.

Local tribal leader Wenepoykin, renamed Sagamore George by the English, headed the Rumney Marsh Indians who lived on the borders of the marsh in Lynn and Saugus, Massachusetts.  Conflict between the indigenous Native Americans and the English settlers was a very real threat when Rev. Samuel Whiting and his wife, Elizabeth St John arrived in 1636.

Elizabeth St John was a pious, serious young woman, about as different from her licentious cousin Barbara, Countess Castlemaine as it was possible to be.

Born in Bletsoe, Bedfordshire in 1605, Elizabeth was the daughter of Oliver St John and his first wife Sarah Bulkeley.

The 17th century St John’s were united by family associations but divided by political allegiance.  While the junior branch at Lydiard Tregoze stood firmly for the Royalist cause, the senior Bletsoe branch was Parliamentarian and Puritan.

Elizabeth’s elder brother was the celebrated lawyer Oliver St John who challenged the illegal Ship Money tax imposed by Charles I and later served as Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas.  Oliver was a staunch supporter of Oliver Cromwell and eventually married into the Lord Protector’s family – twice; firstly to an aunt, Johanna Altham and secondly to a cousin, Elizabeth Cromwell.

Raised in the well heeled St John family Bletsoe home, Elizabeth received a comprehensive education and developed an interest in public affairs.  Her biographer William Whiting writes that she was a fit companion of scholars and statesman. Elizabeth almost sounds too good to be true as William eulogises – ‘Beautiful in person and of cultivated mind, heroic but gentle, learned but modest …fearless of personal danger but of sensitive delicacy towards others, too high spirited to submit to the dictation of British prelates but too sincere a believer in the Prince of peace to provoke or endure controversy which could be honourably avoided, this noble woman gave her heart to her godly husband and her life to aid him in the ministry of the gospel.”

But there can be no denying that Elizabeth was made of stern stuff.

It is not known how or where Elizabeth first met Samuel Whiting.  Before taking a ministry in Skirbeck, Lincolnshire, Samuel had been chaplain to Sir Nathaniel Bacon and Sir Roger Townsend.

Elizabeth married the young widower in Boston, Lincolnshire on August 6, 1629.  The Puritan Pastor had already gained a reputation for his outspoken views and had been twice prosecuted for nonconformity. Influential New England Puritan Pastor Cotton Mather wrote about Samuel that ‘his design was not to please but to profit; to bring forth, not high things, but fit things.’

These were difficult times and the Whitings were among around 20,000 colonists who left England for America during 1630-1640 seeking religious tolerance and with a vision of creating a new and better society.

Whiting forfeited his property in England declaring – “I am going into the wilderness to sacrifice unto the Lord and I will not leave a hoof behind me.”

Elizabeth turned her back on the good life and with her husband, her step daughter Dorothy and her own little son Samuel, to embark upon the unknown. The small family left England in early April 1636 arriving at Boston, New England on May 26 after a tortuous journey.

“I would much rather have undergone six weeks imprisonment for a good cause than six weeks of such terrible sea sickness,” the Rev. Whiting said.

Samuel and Elizabeth remained in Boston for six months before moving north up the eastern seaboard to Saugus where Samuel was inducted on November 8, 1636.

Alonzo Lewis and James R. Newhall describe the area in a History of Lynn published in 1890 as then having a ‘bold and rocky shore, consisting of craggy and precipitous cliffs, interspersed with numerous bays, coves, and beaches, which furnish a pleasing and picturesque variety. Above these rise little verdant mounds and lofty, barren rocks, and high hills, clothed with woods of evergreen.’ Five miles from Salem in the northeast and nine miles from Boston in the southwest, the area contained 9360 acres with a boundary line measuring thirty four miles.

The Saugus territory was later renamed Lynn after Kings Lynn in Norfolk with which the Whiting family had an association.

Elizabeth’s life in Lynn was far removed from the affluent childhood she spent in Bedfordshire.   Among her many duties as Pastor’s wife she instructed the youth of the parish, helped her husband with his writings and ran his domestic affairs. William Whiting, a descendant of the couple, wrote in his memoir of the Rev Samuel Whiting published in 1873 that  Elizabeth’s days were ‘filled with many cares of her family, her parishioners, her guests, and even of the wild savages with whose presence she was not unfamiliar and to whom she gave hospitable shelter.’

And Lynn parishioner Obadiah Turner wrote in his diary that ‘Elizabeth was a godlie woman and did much to cheer and help her husband.  By her learning she was able to give much instruction to the damsels of the parish, and they did all love her as she was a tender mother.’

The couple had six children.  Two died young but sons Samuel, Joseph and John became ministers themselves and their daughter Elizabeth married a minister.

Elizabeth died on March 3, 1677 aged 72.  Samuel died two years later.  They are both buried at the Old Western Burial Ground in Lynn.

Read more about the cemetery on  http://heartoflynn.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/old-western-burial-ground.html

The Lost Palace of Nonsuch

Earlier this month the future of a watercolour painting of the lost palace of Nonsuch by Flemish artist Joris Hoefnagel was saved from export and secured for the nation.


The rare painting, now on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, was acquired with support from the National Heritage Fund and the Art Fund, ensuring that it remains in the UK.

Painted by Hoefnagel in 1568, the palace of Nonsuch was a monument to Tudor excesses, although by then it had temporarily passed out of royal ownership.

Work began on the palace in 1538 as Henry VIII celebrated the birth of his son Edward and the forthcoming 30th anniversary of his accession to the throne.

Henry VIII

Built in the Franco-Italian style it became one of the most important buildings of the English Renaissance.

Henry did a proper Tudor job on the Manor of Cuddington near Ewell in Surrey. He purchased the estate from Richard and Elizabeth Codington and then demolished the church and village to build his new palace. He called it Nonsuch Palace as there was no such palace to equal it.

Some 500 workman from across Europe were employed on the site where work began on April 22, 1538. However, it was still unfinished at the time of Henry’s death in 1547 and apparently the king only visited a handful of times while his son Edward showed little interest in the palace built to celebrate his birth.

Then in 1557 the palace passed out of royal ownership altogether when Henry’s daughter Mary sold it to Henry Fitzalan, the 12th Earl of Arundel. Henry got the builders in to finish the job and it is believed it was he who commissioned Hoefnagel to paint his picture.


In 1592 Elizabeth I purchased the former family pile and was a much more frequent visitor. In fact it was here in 1585 that she signed the Treaty of Nonsuch with the Dutch rebels fighting against Spanish rule.

The palace passed into the possession of the next two Queens when James I gave it to his wife Anne of Denmark and his son Charles I gave it to his wife Henrietta Maria.

So how come that a mere forty years later Nonsuch was no more, razed to the ground, the only evidence of its existence a bump in the landscape.

Who could possibly be responsible for this wanton act of destruction? Go on, guess?

Following the death of his mother Henrietta Maria in 1669 Charles II gave Nonsuch to his troublesome mistress Barbara Castlemaine, granddaughter of Barbara St John and Sir Edward Villiers.

Barbara Villiers - Countess of Castlemaine

You might have thought she would be thrilled to inherit Henry VIII’s palace that had no such equal. But no, not our Babs.

The corrupt countess found the property a drain on her finances, so after she had stripped it and sold everything of value, she applied for permission to knock it down and then sold the fabric of the building, all to offset her gambling debts.

While Barbara Castlemaine may have engineered the destruction of Nonsuch Palace, its good to know that the Hoefnagel painting has been saved for future generations to enjoy.

Coventry v St John

When it comes to family tombs, St Mary’s, Lydiard Park has the daddy of them all.

The St John alabaster, black limestone and clunch ‘bedstead’ tomb, a monument to Anne Leighton, first wife of Sir John St John 1st Bart was commissioned by Sir John some thirteen years before his death. In style and quality the tomb has been compared to work by Nicholas Stone, a leading 17th century sculptor. It was made in London and transported to Lydiard Tregoze in sections where it was reassembled in St Mary’s Church.

During a recent visit to Croome Court I discovered a Coventry family tomb with similarities and a family connection to the St John one.

In 1751 George William 6th Earl of Coventry, inherited Croome Court and one of the first things he did was demolish the medieval church which he considered to be too close to the house for his grand design.

He did, however, strip the church of much of its interior masonry and timbers which were reused in the new build on the hill. He also transferred the bodies of a few ancestors and had them reinterred in a vault beneath the church. He re-installed some magnificent memorials in the new church of St Mary Magdalene, consecrated on June 29, 1763.

One of the memorials that moved up the hill was that of Mary Craven, the wife of Thomas Coventry, 2nd Baron Coventry of Aylesborough.

Mary was baptised at the Church of St Antholin in the City of London, on October 17,1602 the daughter of Sir William Craven and Elizabeth Whitmore and immediately we have a family connection to the St John memorial.

Mary’s mother Elizabeth Whitmore was the elder sister of Margaret Whitmore, second wife of Sir John St John, whose effigy lies on his right hand side.

And if you want another local connection, Mary Craven was the sister of Sir William Craven who built Ashdown House for Elizabeth of Bohemia and is the subject of Nicola Cornick’s time slip novel, House of Shadows.

Mary was a wealthy woman in her own right and a most suitable wife for the 2nd Baron. The couple were married at St Andrew Undershaft, (a church which now stands in the shadow of the ‘Gherkin’ in the City of London) on April 2, 1627. A son and heir, George Coventry 3rd Baron Coventry of Aylesborough was born in 1628 followed by a second son Thomas who later became the 1st Earl. Two daughters died in infancy and a third son, depicted on the monument in Mary’s arms, died at birth.

Mary died on October 18, 1634 ‘in her 29th year.’ She is depicted on the monument dressed in sumptuous bedclothes, reclining on a bed, a baby in her arms. Two children kneel at Mary’s feet, possibly her two sons, who would have been aged 6 and 5 at her death.

The Latin inscription on Mary’s monument translated reads:

In Memory of

That most illustrious Lady Maria, devoted wife of Thomas Coventry, eldest son of Thomas Baron Coventry of Allesborough, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England. A truly most admirable woman, upon whom God lavished beauty, and what is rarer in her sex, virtue, her loveliness surpassing any woman’s, her generosity surpassing any man’s, of unblemished reputation and purity of life, with a lively mind, strong judgment, an easy eloquence and pleasant speech, calmly in control of her feelings, and finally not just a wise but a calm mistress of all these gifts. A fertile mother of four children, she arrived at the last fatal confinement, bringing forth a son, against nature, rather to death than to life, so that even while trying to share out her life, she lost it, and herself yielded to fate, a short time after her child, amid general lamentation.

Anne Leighton also holds her last and 13th child in her arms on the St John monument, but we know this child, a son named Henry, lived to adulthood. Anne lies alongside her husband and his second wife Margaret Whitmore. At her head kneel Anne’s five surviving sons and at her feet her three surviving daughters. Two sons and two daughters who died young are depicted at the base of the monument.

The inscription reads: 

Anne was the daughter of Thomas Leighton, Knight, by his wife Elizabeth of the Knowles family and of the kindred of Queen Elizabeth, as blessed in character as in connection. She lived for thirty seven years, endowed with noble gifts of mind, body, and manner, a rare example of virtue and piety; she was the mother of thirteen surviving children; in the end, long worn down by the painful agonies of her last confinement and at last overcome, she fled to heaven on the 19th September, 1638.

The date is incorrectly recorded and should read 1628.

The Coventry tomb is big and bold, but I have to say the St John one is more finely carved and superior, even with an error in the inscription. Well I would, wouldn’t I?


The Coventry monument



Mary Craven and child




The St John tomb



Margaret Whitmore, Mary Craven’s aunt