You can’t imagine how pleased I was to find Jane St. John. She wasn’t exactly lost – I was just looking for her in all the wrong places.
Jane was the third of six sisters, the daughters of Sir John St. John and his wife Lucy Hungerford. Her date of birth is unconfirmed but supposed to be sometime before 1585. Her father died in 1594 and her mother in 1598. Perhaps Jane accompanied her younger sisters and went to live at Battersea with her uncle, Oliver St. John, Viscount Grandison, and his wife Joan.
Or maybe she was placed in the Atye household where she married Robert Atye on May 22, 1606 at St. Margaret’s, Westminster. Robert Atye’s father was Arthur Atye, Principal of St Alban Hall and Orator of the University of Oxford and a former secretary to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. His mother, Judith Hungerford, was a member of Lucy Hungerford’s (Jane’s mother) extended family. It was easy to see that this was an advantageous match and one from which Jane’s brother, Sir John St. John 1st Baronet, benefited financially. The couple went on to have two children, Arthur born 1606/7, who died before attaining his inheritance, and Eleanor born in 1608.
So where was Jane following her marriage to Robert Atye in 1606?
Arthur Atye died in 1604 at his home, Kilburn Priory. In his will he leaves his property in Hampstead, Marybone (Marylebone), Willesden and Kilburn to his wife Judith for her use during her lifetime. His eldest son (Jane’s husband to be) Robert, was still under the age of 21.
Today Willesden has a London post code and a population of more than 44,000 but before the Reformation it was a place of pilgrimage, sacred to the memory of two ancient statues of the Virgin Mary. Neighbouring Kilburn spans the London Borough of Camden to the east and Brent to the west. The area took its name from Kilburn Priory, a small monastic community of nuns established in the 12th century.
Robert died in 1612 and in 1615 Jane returned to Lydiard Tregoze where she married widower Charles Pleydell at St. Mary’s Church on October 14. I assumed that as Charles’s home was at Midgehall, Lydiard Tregoze the couple would live in the parish where Jane had been born. I should know better than to make assumptions in family history research.
Jane and Charles returned to her home at Kilburn Priory where they had at least ten children (possibly twelve) most of them baptised at the church of St. John, Hampstead.
Charles was knighted in 1620 and thereafter described himself as Sir Charles Pleydell of Midgehall, Wiltshire and Kilburn Priory. He served as high sheriff for the County of Wiltshire and Alderman and Mayor of Wootton Bassett.
Charles had at least 19 children from his two wives so it is understandable if all those birthdays become a little confused. I am still trying to sort out Elizabeth and Deborah Pleydell whose birth dates vary from 1616 – 1623, which would make them Jane’s daughters. However several sources describe them as Catherine’s girls so more work to do on these two women.
And, what became of Jane?
Charles died in 1642 and was buried at St. Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze. Did Jane return to Midgehall to eventually join him in death at St. Mary’s. It seems more likely she remained at her house in Kilburn. When Jane died in 1654 she was buried in the churchyard at St. Mary’s, Willesden, probably on the instructions of her eldest daughter Eleanor Atye married to Sir William Roberts who owned considerable land in the area.
But joy of joys, there is actually a portrait of Jane St. John. Jane appears 3rd from the right in the family portrait at the centre of the St. John polyptych – where I knew she was all along.