Sarah Whiting Sparhawk

When Sarah Whiting married Samuel Sparhawk on December 2, 1696 in Cambridge, Massachusetts the town was still a small settlement.  Harvard University, founded in 1636, generated employment for domestic staff and boarding house keepers, but most of the inhabitants were still employed in agriculture and rural crafts.

In 1647 records reveal that there were 90 houses and the town numbered 135 rate payers.  Livestock included 208 cows, 131 oxen, 37 sheep, 62 swine and 58 goats.  It would be more than a hundred years before the population topped 2,000.

Originally named Newtowne by the early settlers in 1631 the intention was that this would be the seat of government for the new Province of Massachusetts, an honour that later went to Boston.

Many of the early settlers came from the East Anglia region of England, reflected in some of the local place names – Haverhill and Ipswich (Suffolk), Norwich and Lynn (Norfolk) and of course Cambridge itself, named after the university town.

Sarah Whiting was born in neighbouring Lynn, 14 miles north of Cambridge, and came from pioneering aristocracy.  Her paternal grandparents were the Rev. Samuel Whiting and his wife Elizabeth St. John Whiting.  Sarah was the daughter of their son the Rev Joseph Whiting who graduated from Harvard College in 1661 and served as his father’s assistant in Lynn. Sarah’s mother was the Rev Joseph’s his first wife Sarah Danforth.  Following his wife’s death in about 1682 Joseph took up a ministry in Southampton, Long Island where he married second wife Rebecca Bishop tin 1684.

Did Sarah, by then about 15 years old, follow her father to his new parish.  A shadowy figure in the early Whiting family annals, some accounts fail to mention her existence at all, stating that only two children from Rev Joseph’s first marriage survived infancy.  However Sarah is mentioned in her father’s will where she received a bequest of 5 shillings.

On her maternal side Sarah’s grandfather was Deputy Governor, Judge Thomas Danforth long time treasurer of Harvard College who was described as ‘one of the most energetic and useful citizens in the town, and in the Colony.’  He also took part in the infamous Salem witch trials.

When Sarah Whiting married in 1692 she aligned herself with the equally influential Sparhawk pioneering family, who had played an important part in the early history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Samuel Sparhawk was the grandson of Nathaniel Sparhawk who had left Dedham in Essex in 1636 and settled in ‘Little Cambridge’ on the south side of the Charles River, which later became the town of Brighton.  By 1642 Nathaniel owned five houses and 500 acres, an investment he added to throughout his life.

Did Sarah and Samuel indulge in the excesses of the new 18th century – unlikely given their strict Puritan ancestry.  During 21 years of marriage Sarah gave birth to seven children, two of whom died in infancy.  Husband Samuel was a freeman in 1690 and served as a Selectman from 1701 to 1710; however without consulting original documents there is very little else to be gleaned about Sarah’s life.   Her grandmother Elizabeth St John Whiting  would no doubt have tutored her in the art of how to become a good gentlewoman but did life get any easier for women as the pioneering settlements developed?

“In those early days the municipal affairs were very economically administered,” Lucius R. Paige wrote in 1877.  “The school-houses and other public buildings were few and inexpensive; the streets and side walks were neglected and unlighted; thorough sewerage was unknown; the members of the fire department were volunteers; and the police consisted of one constable in each of the three principal villages.”  So maybe not then.

Samuel died in 1713 aged 49 and is buried in the Old Burying Ground, Harvard Square Cemetery, Cambridge.

Sarah never remarried.  She remained a widow for nearly 40 years and died on December 8, 1752 aged 84.

It is said that Nathaniel Sparhawk, who came to New England from a small 17th century village on the Essex/Suffolk borders, is the progenitor of all present day holders of the surname in the USA.

How many of these trace their ancestry to his grandson Samuel’s wife Sarah and the St John family from Bletsoe in Bedfordshire?

Ellen St John

Ellen St John visited Lydiard Park for her father’s funeral.  Whether this was the one and only time she ever saw her ancestral home remains unknown. In fact most of Ellen’s life is something of a mystery, living as she did on the periphery of St John family life.

Ellen’s life was shrouded in secrecy and even she once commented that she never knew her exact birth date. Difficult to locate on the Victorian census returns, Ellen could have become a mere footnote in the St John family history if it were not for a handful of letters that escaped the monumental clear out conducted by her half brother Vernon 6th Lord Bolingbroke, who donated 2½ tons of paper to the wartime salvage effort.

Ellen Rose was the only surviving child born to Ellen Medex and Henry Mildmay St John, 5th Viscount Bolingbroke, during a clandestine relationship which lasted over 30 years.

Despite Henry’s later protestations, it appears unlikely that he ever married Ellen Medex. However, following her death in 1885 she was buried in Highgate Cemetery where Henry declared her to be ‘Ellen, Viscountess Bolingbroke.’

Ellen Rose was born in 1863. Her parent’s nomadic lifestyle under various pseudonyms makes it difficult to locate the family on the 1871 and 1881 census records.

However, the 1891 census returns reveal that Ellen Rosie St John aged 29, occupied four rooms at 39 Cornwall Road close to Paddington Station, where she lived with her companion Minnie Breton on an income of private means, most probably money left to her by her mother.

At the time of the 1911 census Ellen had moved to the suburbs, a six roomed flat at 11 Babington Road, Streatham where she lived with her maid, Minnie Leonard.

By the 1930s Ellen, then in her late sixties, lived in a rented house at 13 Malvern Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey.

She appears to have owned another property that she rented out, meanwhile living in rented accommodation where she also let out several rooms.

Acting on behalf of the widowed Lady Bolingbroke, Harold Dale at H. Bevir & Son, long term solicitors to the St. John family, was the unfortunate recipient of Ellen’s letters, nine of which are held at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.

“I am writing this to ask you if Lady Bolingbroke is still at Lydiard as I have written to her & as she has not answered my letters I am wondering if she received them,” Ellen wrote to Harold Dale, at his Wootton Bassett office.

“She always sent me my rent etc through Mr Goodwyn & I have not had any cheque this month (due 11th). I don’t think he can realize what that means to me. I have not anything of my own & my mother’s money – which was not much was spent was little as everything was so expensive.”

While Mary, Lady Bolingbroke continued to battle the financial consequences of the extravagances of previous generations of St. Johns, her stepdaughter similarly suffered from the excesses of her ancestors’ lifestyles.

In 1922 Vernon Henry St. John, Ellen’s half brother, petitioned the government that he should be summoned to Parliament by the name and style of Viscount Bolingbroke, Viscount Saint John, Baron Saint John of Lydiard Tregoze, and Baron Saint John of Battersea.

The subsequent hearing received extensive press coverage and exposed the details of his father’s, Henry Mildmay, love affairs and subterfuge.

The successful petition enabled Vernon to take his seat in the House of Lords but for Ellen the outcome was less satisfactory.

Tainted by her father’s conduct and with her own illegitimate birth revealed, Ellen wrote to Harold Dale that “I have been here 30 years & the case in the House of Lords simply ruined me here as people have never been the same to me.”

In a letter dated July 3, 1930 Harold Dale outlines the full extent of the financial situation at Lydiard in an attempt to offer Ellen an explanation why he is unable to pay her an allowance. “I am really awfully sorry for you, and do appreciate the position you are in – but Lady Bolingbroke is in exactly the same position, and has no income whatever.

“She also does not know what to do, and she has such heavy expenses in connection with the house and there is nothing to meet them with.

“The position with regard to the future is still in the balance and a great deal depends upon whether any further sales of land take place.

“At the moment the mortgagees will require the whole income and Lady Bolingbroke is powerless in the matter.

“It is a most terrible situation for you.”

Perhaps still unappreciative of the real situation and revealing a little of her father’s autocratic attitude, Ellen replied:

“I cannot understand how it is that Lydiard has got into that terrible state. Lady Bolingbroke could let part of the house & people bring their own servants. That, would bring her a little.”

With the help of Harold Dale, Ellen applied for financial assistance from a variety of philanthropic societies, including the Guild of Aid for Gentlepeople.

“The Society you were kind enough to write to thought the case was not a suitable one so I managed to get a little from another society not permanent unfortunately,” Ellen informed him.

Following the unsuccessful application to the Guild of Aid for Gentlepeople, Ellen again appealed to the beleaguered Harold Dale.

“I hope you will not think me a terrible nuisance – I really don’t know how to go on & I do really dread the winter under these conditions.

“If you could manage to get ever so little a month it would be such a help to keep me going.” Wracked with worry an exasperated Ellen wrote again:  “What do you think I can exist upon? The Vicar & Dr. think it a most cruel and dreadful thing not to send me anything.”

Ellen possibly had some contact with the extended St John family, or perhaps she refers to her Medex relatives when she writes – “the family cannot believe such a thing. Father not being on friendly terms with them, had made it bad for me.”

On December 23, 1931 Mary, Lady Bolingbroke wrote to Harold Dale, “ I am enclosing a cheque for five pounds made out to you as I think it advisable it should be sent to her [Ellen] from you.”

Sadly, Ellen’s eventual rescue came at the expense of Mary’s death in 1940. In her will dated 1902 Mary’s first bequest was an annuity of £100 per annum to Ellen St John. In 1940 Ellen was herself 77 years old and in failing health. Her last address in 1942 was 58 Derby Road, Croydon where she rented two rooms. She died at the Mayday Hospital, Croydon in March of that year.

Ellen’s rooms contained very little furniture and were left in a terrible state according to her landlady where “mice jump out of the drawers.” Among her effects were several silver plated items and a model of a Chinese Junk in a glass case, which was described as being ‘very pretty.’

Ellen died owing £14 14s rent. Anxious to locate anything of value, Vernon was informed that the silver plated items were in the possession of the Local Authorities and would be sold to go towards the rent arrears.

Unlike Lady Bolingbroke whose funeral two years previously was attended by family, friends, tenants and estate workers at the parish church in Lydiard Park, Ellen was laid to rest, not in the St. John family vault, but in grave number 20642 plot F.5 in Croydon Cemetery, Mitcham Road.

It seems unlikely anyone other than the funeral director attended Ellen’s burial.

Photographs from top: Ellen St John; her mother Ellen Medex; her father Henry 5th Viscount Bolingbroke; her half brother Vernon 6th Viscount Bolingbroke and interior views of Lydiard House in the 1940s are courtesy of Lydiard Park.  The enclosed St John family vault in the churchyard at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

The Two Mistresses Ruthven

Today’s GG post takes a look at a less aristocratic but none the less interesting family and two women who lived an unconventional life, not always on the right side of the law.

Little is known about Mary Ann Tamplin’s early life.  According to her marriage certificate her father William served in the Royal Navy; her mother gave the name Ann when she was called to give testimony on behalf of her daughter.

The first evidence of Mary Ann Tamplin is on the occasion of her marriage to George Ruthven at St Bartholomew the Great on June 3rd 1816.  George was 23 years old and ambitious.  Aged 17 he had followed his father Archibald and elder brother, also named Archibald into London’s embryonic police force. Founded in 1749 by Henry Fielding, the Bow Street Runners battled a tidal wave of crime in Georgian London.  While brother Archibald succumbed to temptation and was incriminated in corrupt policing practices, George carved out an illustrious career in the peace keeping force.

But these were the early days of George’s career.  He and Mary Ann moved into a house in Holles Street, a short walk from the magistrates court in Covent Garden.  Within five months of the wedding a son George John William was born.

Nicknamed ‘The Quaker’ by his fellow officers owing to an indifferent, cool attitude to his duties George has been described as an eccentric character. Resolute and not a little vindictive, Mary Ann experienced first hand his determination to see a case through.

At what point did the marriage go wrong?  Perhaps it was the long, unsociable hours George worked. Or maybe the cold determination that made him so successful in his career.  Perhaps his new found celebrity status following his detection of the Cato Street Conspiracy caused friction.  George had infiltrated a group of revolutionaries led by Arthur Thistlewood and learned of their plans to assassinate members of the British government. George led the party of peace officers who stormed their meeting place above a stable in Cato Street.  Although Thistlewood escaped, George hunted him down and brought him to justice.  George was proclaimed a hero.

As if this wasn’t excitement enough, Mary Ann left George and shacked up with a notorious horse dealer.  James Haseldine, also known as ‘Shock Jem’ ran a dodgy business buying and selling horses and carriages at establishments in Coleman Street and Grub Street in the City.  Haseldine incriminated several innocent and not so innocent bystanders in a fraudulent bankruptcy, with Mary Ann Ruthven playing a major part.  Haseldine was heard to boast that on the day he was examined Mrs Ruthven had money concealed in her stays. However, when his major creditor, bloodstock dealer Tattersall’s, smelt a rat Haseldine ended up in court.  Driving the whole investigation was none other than George who, it was reported ‘had been deeply injured by the treachery of Hazeldine in a pecuniary and domestic view.’  The expenses of the trial amounted to £5,000, some said paid for by George himself.

Having got his man and settled a few scores, George moved on.  On April 6, 1828 he had  Thomas Joseph and Mary Anne Sarah Ruthven, baptised at St Mary’s, Lambeth.  These were the eldest of a brood of twelve children he had with his common law wife Mary Anne Harrison.

Throughout the 1830s the couple lived at various addresses close to Covent Garden and across the Thames in Lambeth.  When Charles Henry and Christopher Charles Robert were born they were living in Drury Lane.  From 1832-1834 they were at Wych Street, beneath present day Aldwych, where Adolphus Devereux Duncan George, Grace and Louisa Ellen Isabella were born.  And in 1836 Alfred, Mary Ann Sarah Grace Jane and Catherine were born at Wellington Terrace.

On September 29, 1829 Sir Robert Peel’s new Metropolitan Police force took to the streets, but George’s career was far from over.  It was said that his family were rarely acquainted with his destination when he set off ‘on a long and dangerous expedition’ bidding them ‘you will perhaps hear of me soon.’

In 1839 the Bow Street force along with the Foot & Horse Patrol and the Thames River Police, amalgamated with the Metropolitan Police and George decided to call it a day.  In the best tradition of retired coppers, George bought a pub – the One Tun Inn on Chandos Street close to his old beat.

It was here that he died on March 26, 1849.  His death was registered by George John William Ruthven, his son by Mary Ann Tamplin and he was buried in the churchyard of St Paul’s, Covent Garden.

George’s death, most probably caused by a stroke, was sudden and just five days later poor Mary Anne Harrison gave birth prematurely to twins.  A son, John Prosper Ruthven died at 12 days old, a daughter Clara is described on census returns as ‘imbecile.’

In the obituary that appeared in The Times, it was said that George ‘was considered as the most efficient police officer that existed during his long career.’ He received a pension of £220 from the English government and similar amounts from both the Russian and Prussian Governments for his work on detecting forged currencies.

Meanwhile, what had happened to Mary Ann Tamplin? Shock Jem received a two year sentence in Newgate Prison, but whether Mary Ann waited from him remains unknown.  The 1841 census finds her living with her married son George at 13 Copenhagen Street in Islington, the address from which she married carpenter Thomas Wilson on March 18, 1848.

Mary Anne Harrison appears on the 1851 census at 16 Gladstone Street, Southwark living with her three daughters Ellen 18, Kate 12 and Clara 7.  Her eldest son Thomas 23 is head of the household and works as a General Dealer and Clothier’s Clerk.  Mary Anne and Christopher 21 list their occupation as Brush Manufacturer.

By 1861 both women are lost on the census.  A search for Mary Ann Wilson throws up too many possibilities; of Mary Anne Ruthven there appears no sign.  Did she marry or had she died by then?  As they had once existed on the periphery of George’s life, after his death they disappear into the myriad of women named Mary Anne.

Mary Anne Harrison was my great-great-great-grandmother.

Alice St John, Lady Morley

The St John family has several close connections with Royalty.  Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine had a whole nursery full of Charles II’s babies while her cousin John Wilmot, Lord Rochester also got up to some jolly japes with Old Rowley.

But one hundred and fifty years earlier Alice St John could claim an equally close connection with Royalty.  Alice’s father Sir John St John of Bletsoe was Henry VII’s first cousin.

As the monarch’s mother, Margaret Beaufort spread the love to her St John kin.  She made her nephew John, son of her half brother Oliver, Chamberlain of her household and for her little great niece Alice, her other half brother John’s granddaughter, she found a place at Court.  And even better then that – she found her a husband as well.

In the early 1500s Alice married Henry Parker who had grown up in the household of Alice’s great-aunt Margaret Beaufort.  Margaret obviously had a soft spot for young Henry as she paid his new stepfather, Sir Edward Howard, 500 marks when he married Henry’s mother to make sure the boy kept some land.  At the death of his mother in 1518, Henry became the 10th Baron Morley with homes at Mark Hall, Essex and Great Hallingbury, Herfordshire.

As second cousin to Henry VIII, Alice got to go on some good trips too.  In 1520 she was a member of the Queen’s entourage when the Court shipped out to probably the biggest gig of the 16th century, the Field of the Cloth of Gold.  Masterminded by Cardinal Wolsey, this extravagant display of oneupmanship between English King Henry VIII and French King Francis I involved – well just about the entire ruling class on both sides of the Channel.

Damien Lewis as Henry VIII in the BBC drama Wolf Hall

Damien Lewis as Henry VIII in the BBC drama Wolf Hall


Alice also appears in Royal records in the procession at Anne Boleyn’s coronation, by which time she was also related to this dangerous to know family.  Alice’s eldest daughter Jane had married Anne Boleyn’s brother George in 1524/5.  But this was not a match made in heaven.

George, Lord Rochford made the most of being in with the in crowd.  He partied hard and enjoyed female, and possibly male company, if court gossips were to be believed.

Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn

Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn

When the whole Royal marriage came crashing down it was even said he had enjoyed carnal knowledge of his sister Anne.  Most of the evidence produced against Anne and George had been obtained under torture, apart, that is from Jane’s contribution.

Unhappy, lonely and jealous, Jane helped to seal her errant husband’s fate, although biographer Julia Fox states that Jane buckled under relentless questioning by Thomas Cromwell.

Thomas Cromwell played by Mark Rylance in the BBC drama Wolf Hall

Thomas Cromwell played by Mark Rylance in the BBC drama Wolf Hall

These were perilous times for both Alice and Jane.  You might have thought that Jane would count her blessings and keep far away her second cousin once removed series of bedroom farces.  But within a year of the death of Anne and George Boleyn, Jane was back at court, a lady in waiting to Queen Jane Seymour.

Following the Queen’s death Jane retained her position as lady in waiting to the teenage Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife.  And now you really do have to wonder what she was up to.  Instead of passing on the tips and wrinkles she had acquired through her pretty tumultuous court career, Jane instead arranged secret assignations between Catherine and handsome courtier Thomas Culpeper.

Jane’s part in the young Queen’s affair was discovered and while Catherine was detained in Syon House, Jane was dispatched to the Tower.  Kept prisoner for several months Jane eventually broke down and was declared insane.  On February 13, 1542 she was taken out onto Tower Green and beheaded on the block where the executioner had just chopped off the head of Catherine Howard.

Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford played by Jessica Raine in the BBC drama Wolf Hall.

Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford played by Jessica Raine in the BBC drama Wolf Hall.


But what about Alice.  Did she visit Jane in the Tower?  Did she stand in the crowd that cold February morning in 1542 and weep as her daughter died, mourning the innocent little girl who had played in the gardens at Hallingbury Place?  Or had she already disowned Jane in fear of reprisals?  In 1542 Alice paid part of the cost of a new bell for the church in Great Hallingbury, possibly in Jane’s memory.

Alice died in 1552/3 aged 66.  She had seen it all – the best and the worst of those terrible Tudor times.

Image of Margaret Beaufort’s tomb in Westminister Abbey

Jessica Raine plays Jane Rochford in the BBC drama Wolf Hall

Jane, Elizabeth and Frances Cavendish

In her book Cavalier – The Story of a 17th century Playboy – Dr Lucy Worsley describes the three Cavendish sisters as ‘truly extraordinary seventeenth century women.’

Jane, Elizabeth and Frances Cavendish were the daughters of William Cavendish 1st Duke of Newcastle and Elizabeth Bassett.  The sisters grew up at Welbeck Abbey, a former monastery in Nottinghamshire; a home they would courageously defend during the English Civil Wars.

A nobleman at the court of James I and friend of his son Charles when it came to war, William Cavendish was fearless – up to a point. William was in command of Royalist troops in the north of England, but following the Royalist defeat at Marston Moor in July 1644 he fled to the continent, in terror – of being mocked!

Taking his sons and a few servants he abandoned the Royal garrison at Welbeck Abbey, leaving his home, his money and his possessions to the care of his three daughters. The three young women had only recently lost their mother but these great granddaughters of the formidable Bess of Hardwick were well up for the challenge.

Marston Moor proved to be the turning point of the war; the Parliamentarian army was now on a triumphant trajectory, and within weeks of the battle Cromwell’s men, headed by the Earl of Manchester, were knocking at the door of Welbeck Abbey.  The Royalist soldiers marched out and the Parliamentarians marched in.  They were to occupy the house for a year, during which time the three sisters protected the family silver and juggled the absent Duke’s finances, even sending money to fund his self-imposed exile.

Welbeck was retaken by Royalist troops on July 16, 1645 when fierce fighting took place in the Abbey grounds.  But the three sisters continued to write loving letters to their father, who now had a feisty new wife Margaret, and showed no signs of returning to Welbeck.  Writing was to be a great consolation to the three women.  They collaborated on plays and poems, which today provide a unique insight into their plight during the civil war.

Middle daughter Elizabeth had been married off to John Egerton, 2nd Earl of Bridgewater, at the tender age of 14 when the country was poised on the precipice of civil war.  Her sisters would have to wait until the conflagration was over before they settled down.

Jane married Charles Cheney, Viscount Newhaven in 1654; in the same year Frances aligned herself with the Parliamentarian St Johns when she married Oliver St John, 2nd Earl Bolingbroke at Pitstone, Buckinghamshire on November 24, 1654.

Elizabeth died in childbirth in 1663.  Her tenth child, a son, was born dead.  Her funeral was reportedly ‘attended by Nine Mourning Coaches with Six Horses apiece; filled with the Children, & other neere Relations, & accompanied by an Extraordinary great number of the Nobility, & many of the Gentry about London, in their coaches, & waited on by her Servants & other Mourners on horseback, her coronet being carried before her by one of the officers.’

She was buried at St Peter & St Paul’s Church in Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire where her grieving husband erected a magnificent memorial.

Jane developed epilepsy in 1668 and died on October 8, 1669.  She was buried at All Saints Church, Chelsea where an equally impressive memorial was erected.

Frances and Oliver St John had no children during their 24 years of marriage.  On his death in 1688 Oliver’s titles and estate went to his brother Paulet.

The couple lived at Bletsoe Castle in Bedfordshire where Frances died on August 15, 1678.  She was buried in the parish church at Bletsoe where Oliver erected this memorial.  The tablet on the left side was left blank, presumably for a suitable inscription when Oliver died, but apparently no one ever got around to writing his epitaph.

As in life, so in death the three Cavendish sisters left their mark.

Elizabeth Bourchier – Mrs Oliver Cromwell

Most of what we know about Elizabeth Cromwell is based on propaganda written either by disaffected Parliamentarians or triumphant Royalists.  During her lifetime she received an inordinate amount of bad press, criticised and lampooned, accused of being both parochial and immoral.

In Newes From the New Exchange published in January 1650 she was said to have “run through most of the Regiment, both Officers and Souldiers.”  

Yet following her husband’s elevation to Lord Protector Elizabeth was berated for using her husband’s position to acquire ill-gotten gains, often reselling gifts, accepting bribes and cash for honours whilst allegedly running the protectoral court in a mean and parsimonious way, keeping cows in St James’s Park to cut the household cheese and butter bill.

Lucy Hutchinson, wife of the regicide judge Colonel John Hutchinson, said Elizabeth was ill suited to the socially elevated position she held – and apparently her dress sense was appalling!

But whatever her perceived faults, the role of Lady Protectoress was not one Elizabeth signed up for when she married Oliver at St Giles, Cripplegate on August 22, 1620.

Elizabeth Bourchier was born in 1598, the daughter of wealthy London fur and leather merchant Sir James Bourchier and his wife Frances.  Elizabeth and Oliver probably became acquainted through a family connection; Elizabeth’s father and Oliver’s aunt, Joan Barrington, were near neighbours and both families were of an equal social standing.

The young couple began married life in Huntingdon but sometime in the late 1620s Oliver suffered a period of illness and depression during which it is said he experienced a profound spiritual awakening.  He emerged a full-fledged Puritan complete with deep and uncompromising beliefs and a seat in Parliament as MP for Huntingdon.

But in 1631, with his personal fortunes in decline, Oliver was forced to sell most of his Huntingdon property.  He leased a farmstead at nearby St Ives where he moved with his growing family and worked as a farmer for five years.

Then in 1636 the Cromwell family finances took another surprising turn when Oliver’s maternal uncle, Sir Thomas Steward, died leaving him a substantial inheritance including a house next to St Mary’s Church in Ely.  In 1640 Oliver was returned to parliament as MP for Cambridge.

Her first 20 years of marriage had been something of a roller coaster ride – but that would be as nothing compared to the next few.  By 1654 Cromwell had deposed the monarchy, beheaded the king, set in place Draconian laws, some of which would survive another 300 years, and moved his family into at apartments at both Whitehall and Hampton Court Palaces.

Cromwell died on September 3, 1658.  Away from the public stage theirs had been a happy and fruitful marriage, producing nine children, eight of whom survived to adulthood.  But if Elizabeth had been ill equipped for her role as ‘pretend Queen,’ her son Richard was also found wanting in his as pretend Lord Protector.  In less than two years Parliament had asked the exiled heir to the throne to come home.  Elizabeth left London in April 1660, followed by accusations that she had stolen some Royal jewels, a charge she strenuously denied.

Some sources say she spent time in Switzerland, but it was from Wales that she wrote to the newly restored King, pleading he should grant her that “protection without which she cannot expect now in her old age, a safe retirement in any place in your Majesty’s dominions.”  To his credit Charles let her join her widowed son in law John Claypole at Northborough Manor in Northamptonshire where she lived out the rest of her days.

Away from London she avoided the spectacle of her beloved Oliver’s posthumous execution. Exhumed from his burial place in Westminster Abbey, Cromwell along with the bodies of his son in law and Parliamentarian General Henry Ireton, and John Bradshaw, president of the parliamentary commission at Charles I’s trial, were dragged on an open hurdle from Holborn to Tyburn.  Here the mummified bodies hung for most of that day, January 30, 1661, the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I.  Eventually cut down, their heads were hacked off, their bodies buried in a pit beneath the gallows.  But this was not the end.  The heads were unwrapped and stuck on polls above Westminster Hall where they remained until at least 1684.

Elizabeth died in 1665 and was buried in Northborough Church on November 19.  However even this event is shrouded in mystery.  Mark Nobel, 18th century antiquarian writer and author of the much criticised Memoires of the Protectoral House of Cromwell suggests that this date in the parish registers might have been a ruse to draw attention away from Elizabeth, still worried about possible attacks of revenge.  However John Heneage Jesse writing sixty years later in the Memoirs of the Court of England, from the Revolution in 1688 to the death of George II adds credence to this by stating that Elizabeth died on October 8, 1672.

The date of her death might be up for debate, but one thing certainly isn’t. Elizabeth lived through cataclysmic social and religious changes – she deserves more than a place in the footnotes of history.

Images from top – Elizabeth, Oliver Cromwell, Bridget Cromwell – wife of Henry Ireton, Elizabeth Cromwell – wife of John Claypole, Richard Cromwell, Elizabeth.

Judith St John – left heare alone

Sometimes it is only in death that we learn a little of the life of a Good Gentlewoman.

Judith St John was born in c 1545 the daughter of Oliver, 1st Baron St John of Bletsoe and his first wife Agnes Fisher.  Oliver served as High Sheriff of Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire in 1551 and was Lord Lieutenant of Bedfordshire from 1560-1569.  He was one of the peers on the jury in the 1572 trial of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk who had conspired with the Spanish King Philip II to put Mary, Queen of Scots on the English throne.

Judith most probably spent her childhood at Bletsoe Castle in Bedfordshire, a medieval moated manor house with inner court and kitchen garden on the edge of farmland with ancient field names such as Mill Close Meadow and Damask Pightle.

A marriage settlement between Judith and John Pelham is dated May 1, 1561 when he was 24 years old and she about 16.  It is likely their marriage followed soon after, although some sources suggest the couple did not marry until 1570.  They had only one surviving child, a son named Oliver.

John Pelham was among those Protestants who fled to the continent with the accession to the throne of Catholic Queen Mary in 1553.  He studied at the University of Padua during the winter of 1556-7 after which he settled in Geneva where he was received into the congregation of Scottish Protestant reformer John Knox.  By 1560 he had returned to England where following the death of his father he inherited various estates in Sussex including the manor of Laughton.

John served as member of Parliament for Sussex in 1571 and was appointed to the committee for the navigation bill that same year.  He was knighted by Elizabeth at Rye in Sussex on August 12, 1573.

In his will John makes reference to both his religious beliefs and his faith in his wife’s abilities.  In the one he orders that his burial be made without pomp or superstition, alluding to the ceremonies of the old Catholic rites.  To Judith he leaves everything, his real and personal estates and most importantly the upbringing of their son Oliver.

On the death of a peer any underage child  would automatically become the ward of the crown, raised under the direction of Elizabeth with money from the deceased’s estate.  However Sir John gives permission for Judith to buy the wardship of their son and to bring him up in ‘virtue, learning and knowledge.’

Sir John died on October 13, 1580 and was buried ‘by torchlight’ at Holy Trinity Church in the Minories, London.  Their young son Oliver died just four years later and is buried with his father.

Judith commissioned a magnificent red marble monument which stood against the north wall of the chancel at Holy Trinity. The inscription reads:

Deathe first did strike Sr John heare tom’d in claye

And then enforst his sonne to follow faste

Of Pelham’s line this knyghte was chiefe and Staye

By this behold all fleshe must dye at last

But Blesowes lord thy sister most may moane

Both mate and sonn hathe left her heare alone.

Sir John Pelham died the 13 of October 1580

Oliver Pelham his sonne dyed ye 19 of January 1584

The plaque is surmounted by a Knight and his Lady kneeling with their child – the only known representation of Judith.

But it is by a fluke of history that the monument survives at all.  In 1893 Holy Trinity was united with the parish of St Botolph’s, Aldgate.  The former nun’s chapel was closed for worship and used as a parish room until it was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.  Fortunately the monument had previously been removed to Stanmer Church, Brighton.

Judith outlived her husband by more than 25 years.  She never remarried and her will, made in 1607, leaves everything to her St John relatives.

She leaves the manor of Popingworth to her brother Francis st John while Brodehurste  goes to her nephew Henry St John along with her lease interest in the parsonage at Eastborne.  Another nephew, Oliver St John, receives ‘one greate flagon pott of silver and parcell gilte and one greate silver boole the which is bigger then all the reste.’

She leaves to her niece Lady Howarde ‘daughter to the Lord John St John my brother my Jewell that hath nine diamonde sett’ while three family members who share her name ‘my neece Judeth St John my neece Judeth Lytton and my neece Judeth Luce my goddaughter’ receive ‘fivee portagues [16th century coin] a peeces.’

Her brother John receives ‘the Bede bolstere pillowe blankette hanging and all other furniture that is and used to be in the Chamber at the upper ende of the hall at Darlton when I am there my selfe.’

With the usual bequest to old retainers and the poor of the parish, Judith signs off – ‘whereof I have written this my laste will and testament with my own hande in fower sheetes of paper written onely of one side of every sheete and the fowreth sheete hath but eighte lynes written on yt to the which I have sett my name and have fastened the saide fouwer sheets with a labell whereunto I have sett my seale the daye and yeare first above written By me Judeth Pelham.’

Images are courtesy of Tudor Effigies – Costume Research Image Library visit the website on