The Bedfordshire Baptist connection

In the last post I wrote about my maternal great-great-great-great-grandfather William Holdsworth, a Baptist shoemaker in Stepney in the early decades of the nineteenth century. The Baptist theme continues in the life of his daughter Eliza, my great-great-great-grandmother, as my family’s story becomes intertwined with some of the major figures in Baptist history.

As I noted in the previous post, Eliza Holdsworth was born in 1801 in Mile End Road, her birth being registered with Dr Williams’ Nonconformist Library in 1805. She was the fourth of the six children born to William and Lydia Holdsworth: her older siblings were Isaac, Samuel and Phoebe, and she had a younger brother Edward and sister Sarah. Both Isaac and Edward appear to have died in infancy. By the time Sarah was born in 1806, the Holdsworths seem to have moved to Wilmot Street, in the new suburb of Bethnal Green.

In 1817, when Eliza was sixteen years old, her older brother Samuel married a a widow named Lucy Roberts at the church of St George-the-Martyr, across the river in Southwark. Three years later, in 1820, Eliza’s sister Phoebe married bricklayer Thomas Chamberlin at St John’s, Hackney. In 1821, Eliza’s younger sister Sarah married silk weaver Thomas Parker at the church of St George-in-the-East.

Blunham, Bedfordshire, circa 1906

Blunham, Bedfordshire, circa 1906

As for Eliza herself, the next we hear of her is on 25th April 1825 when, at the age of 24, she married Biggleswade shoemaker Daniel Roe in the parish church of Blunham, Bedfordshire. So how did my London-born 3 x great grandmother come to be living in Bedfordshire? One clue may lie in the names of the witnesses at her wedding. They were Mary Evans and William Bowtell, the latter being almost certainly the husband of Mary’s sister Martha. The biblically-named Mary and Martha were the daughters of Caleb Evans, a malt-maker and deacon of the Baptist meeting in nearby Biggleswade. It seem almost certain that Caleb was a relative of Eliza’s maternal grandfather Francis Evans, and that she went to live with her Bedfordshire cousins some time in her childhood or youth.

Another, not incompatible explanation, is that Eliza moved to Bedfordshire in pursuit of employment. In later years she would work as a domestic servant, often in the homes of members of the rural gentry, including vicars and gentlemen farmers. However, given that the Evans family lived in Biggleswade, which was also where her future husband Daniel had his shoemaker’s shop, why was Eliza married in Blunham? Is it possible that she was in service there, perhaps in a position found for her by her Bedfordshire relatives?

Old Baptist chapel, Blunham, Bedfordshire

Old Baptist chapel, Blunham, Bedfordshire

One theory that appeals to me is that Eliza might have been a servant in the household of Rev. Robert Porten Beachcroft, the rector of Blunham, who married Eliza and Daniel in 1825. He also christened their first child Anna Maria a year later, even though by then they were settled in Biggleswade. We know that in later years Eliza would be employed in another clerical household, that of Rev. Robert Merry of nearby Guilden Morden. We also know that Beachcroft was a prominent evangelical who was sympathetic to the Baptist congregation in Blunham. According to one account:

A Baptist congregation had met there from the 1600 Restoration of Charles II, at one time having had John Bunyan as its minister, who owed his relief from prison to the Sheriff of Bedfordshire, Thomas Bromshall of Blunham. In 1724 it separated from the Bedford Meeting and appointed its own minister. During Beachcroft’s time it had fifty members with Martyn Mayle as its pastor. When some of its people told Beachcroft that they desired to start a Sunday School and hoped he would not be offended, he was delighted and said, ‘It always gives me pleasure when good is done’, although he had his own Sunday School.

If my great-great-great-grandmother Eliza lived in Blunham before her marriage, whether or not she worked for Rev Beachcroft, she would almost certainly have been a member of the Baptist Meeting there. Her Biggleswade relatives, if that was what the Evans family were, were connected to Bedfordshire Baptist ‘royalty’. Caleb Evans’ wife Ann, born in Potton in 1771, was a Marsom by birth, from a long-established Bedfordshire Baptist family. Ann’s cousin Samuel, a farmer and market gardener, ran the Crown Hotel in Biggleswade for thirty years. Her great grandfather Thomas Marsom was an ironmonger and Baptist preacher (a combination that recurs across the generations of Marsoms) whose son, also Thomas, was a hymn writer and poet. Ann’s great-great -grandfather, yet another Thomas Marsom, founded the first Baptist church in Luton and in about 1668 was imprisoned with John Bunyan, at which time he is said to have persuaded the latter to publish the book that would become Pilgrim’s Progress.

John Bunyan

John Bunyan

As for Caleb Evans himself, I’ve been unable to find any record of him before his marriage to Ann in Biggleswade in 1798. He is mentioned briefly in a history of Biggleswade Baptist church, where it is noted that the vicar of nearby Harrold mentioned him in a disparaging remark about uneducated preachers. There are certainly plenty of men with the name Caleb Evans in the Baptist records, including some who achieved a degree of fame, but most of them were full-time, educated ministers, and as far as we know Eliza Holdsworth’s relative was merely a part-time deacon and preacher. Most of these other Caleb Evanses lived either in Wales or the Bristol area.

We know from census records that Caleb was born outside the county, so perhaps he or his family moved to Bedfordshire from elsewhere. According to a history of the Welsh Baptists, an assistant minister named David Evans, presumably originally from Wales, was baptised (as an adult) in 1734, began to preach in 1736, then served in Hook Norton, Ireland, Newport Pagnell – and finally Biggleswade. A history of the English Baptists states that David Evans settled in Biggleswade in 1751. Could he have been a relative of Caleb’s: perhaps even his father?

Daniel Roe’s shoemaker’s shop was in Stratton Street, in the centre of Biggleswade, which is where he and Eliza were living when their daughter Anna (or Hannah) Maria was born early in 1826. In the next few years, the couple would have three sons – Richard was born in 1828, Daniel junior (my great-great-grandfather) in 1829 and Caleb (perhaps named after Caleb Evans?) in 1833 – and a daughter, Eliza, born in 1833.

Daniel Roe senior seems to have died in about 1836, leaving Eliza a relatively young widow with five young children. Hannah or Anna Maria Roe died in 1844, at the age of 18, and was buried in the Baptist burial ground in Biggleswade. Shortly afterwards, Eliza and her surviving children began to leave the town. Eliza, Daniel junior and the younger Eliza moved back to Stepney shortly after Anna Maria’s death, while Caleb would stay behind in Biggleswade for a time, working as a servant in a solicitor’s household in Stratton Street, before also moving to Stepney. His brother Richard also remained in the area, being apprenticed and then married in the village of Barkway.

Joseph Priestley

Joseph Priestley

I’m not sure whether the Roe/Holdsworth family’s Baptist affiliation was handed down to the next generation. Daniel Roe junior was married on 3rd July 1848, at the church of St Anne, Limehouse, to his second cousin Mary Ann Blanch, the daughter of JKeziah Holdsworth, the cousin of Daniel’s mother Eliza, and her husband John Blanch. John was a shoemaker in Bethnal Green and may even have been Daniel’s apprentice master. The Blanch family were originally Quakers from Gloucestershire, and I plan to write about them in a future post. Whether or not he remained a Baptist, I have a theory that the younger Daniel Roe, who set up shop with his father-in-law, first in Bethnal Green and later in Soho, was certainly a Dissenter at heart, and probably a radical one. When his son, my great grandfather, was born in Great Windmill Street, in 1862, he was given the name Joseph Priestley Roe, surely a tribute to the great eighteenth-century radical Dissenting minister and natural philosopher.

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Whitechapel Baptists in the age of revolution

In the last post I suggested that there was a hiatus in the Dissenting history of my mother’s family in the eighteenth century. However, clear evidence of Nonconformity re-emerges with my 4 x great grandfather William Holdsworth, who was born in South Weald, Essex, in 1771 and who spent most of his life working as a cordwainer or shoemaker in Whitechapel, to the east of London.

In 1792 the twenty-one year old William married Lydia Evans at the church of St Botolph, Bishopsgate (the church where John Keats would be baptised three years later). As I shall argue in a later post, there is evidence that Lydia was from a long-established Baptist family. It’s unclear whether Lydia was responsible for introducing William to Baptist membership, or if it was a shared religious affiliation that brought them together. At some point soon after their marriage, the couple moved to Marmaduke Street, a small development on the eastern edge of Whitechapel, at that time still overlooking open fields, and just to the north of the New Road that was the continuation eastwards of Cable Street.

Section of Horwood's 1792 map of London, showing part of Stepney, including Marmaduke Street just visible at top right

Section of Horwood’s 1792 map of London, showing part of Stepney, including Marmaduke Street just visible at top right

The Holdsworths were certainly at Marmaduke Street in 1794, when their son Isaac was baptised at the nearby Anglican church of St George-in-the-East. A second son, Samuel, was born at the same address, and christened at the same church, in the following year. A daughter, Phoebe, was born at Marmaduke Street in 1796. We know Phoebe’s birth date because it was registered, like many other Nonconformist births at the time, at Dr Williams’ Library in Redcross Street near Cripplegate. It’s the certificate of Phoebe’s birth, printed in 1805, that is our first source of information about the names of her maternal grandparents, Francis and Elizabeth Evins or Evans. The birth was witnessed by Phoebe’s grandmother Elizabeth Holdsworth and by Susannah McClatchie, the midwife. I’ve discovered that Susannah was herself a Dissenter, whose nine children with her husband Alexander were recorded in the same Nonconformist register as the Holdsworths’.

Record of Phoebe Holdsworth's birth

Record of Phoebe Holdsworth’s birth

Marmaduke Street is given as the Holdsworths’ address in the Meetings Book of Little Alie Street Baptist Chapel, Whitechapel, which records that William was admitted to membership on 14th May 1798 and Lydia on 23rd July 1798 (I’m indebted to my fellow family history researcher Ron Roe for this information and much more besides). Also known as the Church of Christ, the Little Alie Street Chapel’s history is usefully summarised on the excellent website of St-George-in-the-East as follows:

This congregation’s life began in 1750, when members of the Little Prescot Street chapel who wanted James Fall as their next minister broke away. Fall, from Croydon, was ordained in the Independent chapel in Crispin Street, Spitalfields in 1754, with his father presiding. A few months later they moved into their new meeting house in Little Alie Street; it was, said a later observer, a somewhat small chapel. Fall’s life was short and tumultuous – he died in 1756. William Dowers was the minister from 1757-95. His obituary sermon by Curtis Fleming, together with two hymns and an oration at his interment by the Rev. Richard Hutchins, were published in 1795.

In 1789 the deacon Mr Fleming baptized William Winterbotham ‘on profession of faith’, in the river at Old Ford. Winterbotham had renounced infant baptism and the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, and became a Baptist minister. An orthodox and radical Calvinist, he was tried for sedition in 1792. The court claimed, If ever the trumpet of sedition was sounded in the pulpit it was done in this instance. He was in prison from 1793-97, during which he wrote books about China and the United States.

When Dowers died, the chapel was at a low ebb; it closed for a short time. Prescot Street then supplied a minister for a year until William Shenstone took charge from 1797 until his death (aged 62) in 1833; until 1795 or so he had been a General Baptist. During his time 680 members were admitted. He lived in Bedford [now Ford] Square, behind the London Hospital. In 1799 was produced A declaration of the faith and practice of the Church of Christ, in Little Alie-Street, Goodman’s-fields.

The reference to the trial of William Winterbotham is a reminder that the 1790s were a turbulent period in English history, following the shock of the French Revolution, movements for reform at home, and government repression and treason trials. Edmund Burke famously excoriated Dissenting ministers, such as Richard Price and Joseph Priestley, for tacitly supporting the Jacobin cause. It’s not clear to what extent Winterbotham’s ‘seditious’ sentiments were shared by other Baptists attending Little Alie Street Chapel, though it may be significant that, as we shall in a later post, William Holdsworth’s Baptist grandson would name his own son after Joseph Priestley.

Mile End from Horwood's 1792 map of London

Mile End from Horwood’s 1792 map of London

There are other entries for William and Lydia Holdsworth in the Little Alie Street Meetings Book in 1800 and 1803, which give their address as Mile End Road. It was here that their second daughter, my great-great-great-grandmother Eliza Holdsworth was born in 1801, though her birth was not registered until 1805, at the same time as her older sister Phoebe’s. The Holdsworths would have two more children: Edward, born in Mile End in 1803, and Sarah, born in 1806 in Wilmott Street, in the rapidly-growing nearby suburb of Bethnal Green. The latter address is also used for the Holdsworths in the Baptist Meetings Book in the same year.

I plan to write about Eliza Holdsworth, and her marriage into a family of Bedfordshire Baptists, in another post. For now, I’ll conclude this post by summarising what we know about the later lives of William and Lydia Holdsworth. There is evidence that in middle age William took on a second career, running a carrier service between Woodford, Essex, where he seems to have maintained a second home, and London. Kent’s Directory of 1826 refers to a carrier service run by ‘Holdsworth’ between Woodford and Blue Boar in Whitechapel. A listing in Pigot’s Directory of 1826 under Woodford mentions ‘Stokoe, Spear’s, Well’s and Holdsworth’s Carts, daily,’ and  under carriers to London lists ‘John Spears, every morning at nine, to the Black Bell, Whitechapel, & returns in the evening. – And Wm Holdsworth, every morning at nine, to the Blue Boar, Whitechapel, and returns in the evening.’

A suggestion that William may have partnered with one of his brothers in this enterprise comes in the same directory, which under London carriers lists John Holdsworth and gives his route as  ‘Woodford, Flower Pot and Marlboro’ Head, Bishopsgate St., Half Moon, Gracechurch St, and Blue Boar, Aldgate.’ The journey from Woodford to Whitechapel covered about ten miles or so and the Blue Boar was a popular destination point for stage coaches from around the country.

Wycliffe Independent Chapel, Stepney

Wycliffe Independent Chapel, Stepney

William was certainly living in Woodford at the time of his death. He wrote his will there in 1826, appointing his wife Lydia as sole executrix, and died in the following year at the age of 56. The issue of William Holdsworth’s burial is a curious one. The parish register of St Mary the Virgin, Woodford, claims that he was buried there on 24th September 1827. However, there are records of the burials of William and Lydia Holdsworth on 2nd April and 19th December 1830 respectively, at Wycliffe Independent Chapel in Stepney. The website of St. George-in-the-East includes the following information about Wycliffe Chapel:

This chapel traced its roots to one of the early Independent congregations which met from 1642 at Haydon’s Yard, Minories, and then in Smithfield. The chapel in New Road (the original name of part of Cannon Street Road) was built in 1780, with a schoolroom added in 1785 and a Sunday School in 1790. It was long and narrow, seating up to 800 people, and lit by brass chandeliers holding candles (which had to be trimmed mid-service). It had a large burial ground.


Its minister from 1811 was the noted philanthropist Rev Andrew Reed (1787-1862). In 1831 it moved to larger premises in a new building named Wycliffe Chapel, in Philpot Street; here the congregation grew from 100 to 2,000. The parish church acquired the New Road premises in 1831 and they became Trinity Episcopal Chapel. 

Were the Holdsworths buried initially in Woodford, and then re-buried in a Nonconformist ceremony close to their original home in Stepney? And if so, is their place of burial an indication that they had transferred their allegiance from Little Alie Street Baptist meeting to a Congregationalist meeting – or did Wycliffe simply offer the only burial ground for Dissenters in that part of London?

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An eighteenth-century interlude

My main source for most of the ‘lives’ that I’ve discussed on this site has been my own family history research. I began with Elizabeth Greene, a Puritan widow in seventeenth-century Stepney, who I believe was related in some way to my maternal 8 x great grandfather Captain William Greene, a mariner of Ratcliffe. Elizabeth’s will described a network of families in London and Kent, with radical religious and political affiliations, as well as her own connection to the recently-established Stepney Independent Meeting. More recently, I’ve been exploring a number of members of the Byne family of Sussex, including my Quaker-baiting maternal 9 x great grandfather Rev. Magnus Byne of Clayton-cum-Keymer, his activist brother Edward, and his father-in-law, a prominent Puritan bookseller.

In seeking to move on from these early Puritan and Dissenting ancestors, I find that I encounter something of a historical hiatus. I suspect that Magnus Byne’s son John, my 8 x great grandfather and himself a stationer in Restoration London, was of a Calvinist disposition, but apart from a reference in his will to a trust in the ‘alsufficient merritts and passion of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’, I haven’t come across any specific evidence of his religious or political affiliation. He married Alice Forrest, daughter of haberdasher Thomas Forrest, his neighbour in Tower Hill, whose own will includes a similar ‘standard issue’ evangelical preamble.

Tower of London and Tower Hill in 1737

Tower of London and Tower Hill in 1737

In 1701 John and Alice Byne’s daughter Mary married Joseph Greene, another neighbour, who owned a goldsmith’s shop at the sign of the Golden Ball and Ring, on the corner of Little Tower Hill and the Minories. Joseph was the son of the Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe mentioned earlier. We know nothing of Joseph’s religious leanings, or indeed of his father’s. However, Captain Greene had been an Elder Brother of Trinity House, and was appointed as one of its four wardens by James II, in the same charter that made Samuel Pepys its Master. I have an inkling that Elder Brothers had to be members of the Church of England, so I assume that William did not belong to a Dissenting congregation, unlike the other Greenes of Stepney to whom I suspect he was related. We do know that Joseph Greene was apprenticed to a man, Joseph Strong, who had family connections with a Presybterian chapel in Maidstone, where William Hazlitt’s father would one day be minister. However, in the General Election of 1710 Joseph voted for four Tory candidates for City of London seats, at a time when ‘Tory’ tended to mean pro-Stuart and pro-Church, though in 1727 he hedged his bets, casting his votes for two Tories and two Whigs.

London poll book, 1727

London poll book, 1727, in which Joseph Greene’s name appears

Even less is known about the religious affiliations of the next generation of the family. Joseph and Mary Greene’s daughter, another Mary, married John Gibson, a London merchant whose origins remain obscure. On my family history website, Past Lives, I’ve argued that John Gibson is almost certainly the coal factor who was convicted of fraud against the Crown in 1742 and imprisoned in the Fleet. Until that time, he had been a wealthy and successful man, maintaining a home in London and a country manor house at Woodredon near Waltham Abbey. On his release, he seems to have turned his hand to brewing.

A number of John and Mary Gibson’s daughters married into wealthy merchant families, and their son Bowes John Gibson became an auctioneer for the East India Company, maintaining a home in then-fashionable Mile End. Two of Bowes John’s sons became military officers with the Company and served in India, while another became a clergyman. As for 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson, she was married twice. In 1753, perhaps when her father John was still imprisoned in the Fleet, she ran off to Mayfair and contracted a clandestine marriage with John Collins, son of a landowner from Epping, close to the Gibsons’ country home. They had one daughter before John Collins died. Then, in 1763, just three months after her father’s death, Elizabeth married again, this time to Joseph Holdsworth.

Woodredon, home of the Gibson family in the early 18th century, now an equestrian centre

Woodredon, home of the Gibson family in the early 18th century, now an equestrian centre

Joseph was a tenant farmer in South Weald, Essex, but he had been born in Yorkshire. There are still a number of question marks concerning his origins, but the best theory seems to be that Joseph was the son of John Holdsworth of Sowood House in Coley, near Halifax. In 1725 John, who was probably a clothier himself, married Mary Mortimer, daughter of John Mortimer, a wool stapler from nearby Shelf. Interestingly, their marriage was listed in the Northowram or Coley Register, an eighteenth-century record of Nonconformist births, marriages and deaths. Compiled by the Revs. Heywood and Dickenson, the register included ‘numerous notices of Puritans and Anti-Puritans in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, London &c. With Lists of Popish Recusants, Quakers &c.’ There is also a family tradition, passed down through the Holdsworth family, that these Yorkshire ancestors were Nonconformists, possibly Methodists, though there is no concrete evidence in the case of Joseph and Elizabeth Holdsworth, whose children were all baptised in the parish church of St Peter, South Weald.

Title page of the Northowram and Coley Register

Title page of the Northowram and Coley Register

Joseph Holdsworth’s death in 1795 seems to have precipitated Elizabeth’s financial fortunes taking a turn for the worse, despite the comfortable circumstances of her Gibson relations. Joseph seems to have left little or nothing for his wife and children, and their sons ended up in ‘trade’, all of them eventually living in the Stepney area. Her son Joseph junior worked as a carpenter, his brother Godfrey as a plumber, and my 4 x great grandfather William as a shoemaker.

It’s with William Holdsworth that clear evidence of Nonconformity reappears in the family. He was an active member of his local Baptist meeting in Whitechapel, and he seems to have been connected by marriage with what might be described as Baptist ‘royalty’. I’ll write about my these Baptist connections in the next post.

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John Bartlett: seventeenth-century bookseller and religious radical

In the last post I wrote about my 9 x great grandfather Magnus Byne (1615 – 1671), rector of Clayton-cum-Keymer in Sussex, and his quarrel with the Quakers. I suggested that Magnus’ dislike of the sect was typical of Puritan clergymen of his time. Although we have no direct evidence of Magnus Byne’s Puritan leanings, there are a number of indirect factors pointing in that direction. One is the fact that his brother Edward, also a clergyman, was a Puritan activist. Another is that Magnus’s first wife Anne, my 9 x great grandmother, was previously married to John Bantnor, his predecessor at Clayton. In 1605 Bantnor’s father, also named John, the rector of Westmeston, was presented in court ‘for that he doth not say the letany, nor ten commandments; neither does he in baptisme signe with the signe of the Crosse, but with the sign of the Covenant; neither doth he weare the surplice.’

Yet another piece of evidence is that Magnus’ second father-in-law was a a radical Puritan bookseller. My 9 x great grandmother Anne Byne died in March 1662 (by today’s calendar), leaving Magnus with a daughter Anne (who would die a year later at the age of nineteen) and three sons, Stephen, Edward, and my 8 x great grandfather John. Six months after Anne’s death, Magnus Byne married for a second time. Walter Renshaw’s history of the Byne family tells us that Magnus’ second wife was Sarah Bartlett, daughter of John Bartlett, citizen and stationer of St Faith’s in the City of London. According to Renshaw, the allegation for the marriage was dated 23rd September 1662 and it was to be solemnized at Lambeth or St Mary-le-Bow.

17th century bookshop (via

17th century bookshop (via

I’ve yet to find a record of the marriage of Magnus and Sarah. There’s no mention of it in the parish register of St Mary, Lambeth for 1662, and the records of St Mary-le-Bow appear to be incomplete for this period. Nor have I found a record of Sarah’s birth or baptism. Indeed, despite the helpful information provided by Renshaw, I struggled at first to discover anything about her father John.  However, after some creative searching online, I eventually managed to find out a good deal about John Bartlett, and it appears that he was a significant and controversial figure in the religious and political conflicts of early seventeenth-century England.

Renshaw tells us that John Bartlett took up his freedom of the Stationers’ Company on 26th July 1619. It appears that ‘stationer’ is a misleading description of John’s activities: he was also a printer and bookseller. Indeed, a useful outline of his life and work appears in a dictionary of printers and booksellers who were active between the years 1641 and 1667. Apparently, on finishing his apprenticeship, John Bartlett opened a shop at the sign of the Gilt Cup in Goldsmiths’ Row, Cheapside, where he remained until 1637. In 1641 he had premises at St Austin’s Gate and in 1643-44 he was in the parish of St Faith’s. In 1655 Bartlett was in new buildings on the south side of St Paul’s, while two years later he had moved to St Paul’s Churchyard. A year after this, he could be found at the sign of the Gilt Cup in Westminster Hall.

William Laud

William Laud

It would appear that John Bartlett published mostly sermons and other theological works, with a decided Puritan bias. In 1637, during the Personal Rule of Charles I, he was caught up in Archbishop William Laud’s persecution of religious dissidents and brought before Sir John Lambe ‘on a charge of having given William Prynne’s servant some of the writings of Dr Bastwick and Mr Burton to be copied’. Another source claims that Bartlett was tried in the Court of High Commission on two charges: the first for trading in ‘schismatical’ books, including works by William Prynne, John Bastwick and Henry Burton, all of them Puritan propagandists, and the second ‘for receiving the Scottish news and causing severall copies to be written thereof’. ‘Scottish news’ refers to the Covenanters’ campaign against the King’s religious laws, a struggle that aroused a good deal of support among English religious radicals.

William Prynne

William Prynne

The same wave of persecution that swept up John Bartlett dealt harshly with the authors that he published: the three mentioned above were convicted of seditious libel and had their ears cut off and their cheeks branded. Perhaps Bartlett was fortunate to escape with the punishment that was meted out to him. He was ordered to shut up his shop, and when he did not immediately comply, he was imprisoned in the Compter or local prison in Wood Street in the City of London for three months, ‘until he had entered into bond of £100 not to use his trade in Cheapside, to quit his house within six months, and not to let it to anyone but a goldsmith under a penalty of £600.’ Apparently he was later brought before the Privy Council on the Archbishop’s warrant and sent to the Fleet Prison for six months.

John Pym

John Pym

John Bartlett fared better in later years, when the Puritan cause was in the ascendant. In 1641 the ‘Long Parliament’, led by John Pym, passed a bill of attainder against one of King Charles’ closest advisers, Thomas Wentworth, Earl Of Strafford, a process that ended in the latter’s execution on 12th May.  On the previous day, this order was published:

It is this day ordered in ye Comons House of parliament that mr hollis give order tht the Argumt it made in Wesminster hall touching matter of Law in the case of the Earle of Strafford, And that Pym give the like order that his speeches at the beginning & ending of ye tryall of the said Earle of Strafford be likewise printed  And ye printer before he disperse any copies is to bring a copie of ye case to mr Sollicitor & Mr Pym & a copie of mr hollis’s Argument & Mr Pyms Speeches … And order is to be taken that the speech which is printed … under mr Glynnes name may be suppressed, & the printer punished.  And ye Mr and wardens of ye Company of Stationers are required to attend the house to imploy their best Endeavors accordingly. 

The order is signed ‘H. Elsing’ (Henry Elsing was Clerk of the Commons). There is a note beneath indicating that ‘Hollis’ (probably Denzil Holles) appointed ‘John Bartlett Stationer and none else’ to print his ‘Argument’ .

Later that same year, under Pym’s leadership, Parliament published what became known as the Grand Remonstrance, a list of its grievances against the King. This was one of the key events precipitating the Civil War that broke out in the following year. Once again, and probably on account of his religious sympathies, John Bartlett seems to have been Parliament’s printer of choice for this important text. A parliamentary record for 9th July 1649 includes the following: 

Ordered, That the Committee of Revenue be required and authorized forthwith to pay unto John Bartlett, Citizen and Stationer of London, Twenty-five Pounds, for Twenty thousand Remonstrances, of the Second of May 1642, printed for the Service of the State: And that the Acquittance of the said John Bartlett shall be a sufficient Discharge for the same to the said Committee.

Bartlett petitioned Parliament again in September 1653, in the time of Cromwell’s Commonwealth, this time for compensation of losses suffered due to his imprisonment under Charles I (emphasis added):

Relief of Creditors.

Mr. Anlaby reports further Amendments to the Bill for Relief of Creditors and poor Prisoners: Which were twice read: And several of the said Amendments were put to the Question; and agreed. 

Resolved, That the Allowance for the Commissioners for London be Two-Pence in the Pound.- 

The humble Petition of John Bartlett, Citizen and Stationer of London, was this Day read.- 

A Clause was tendered to this Bill, in these Words: viz. “And it is Enacted, That all Persons that lie in Prison, or that have done any Wrong by Colour of ShipMoney or by Order of the Council Board, in the Time of the late King, whatever there hath been recovered, that their Lands and Estates shall be liable to satisfy the Persons wronged, with all Damage and Costs, although the same, or any Part thereof, hath been conveyed away to their Children, or any others, since the Wrongs done: Which was twice read. 

According to the dictionary of booksellers and printers cited earlier, John had a son, John Bartlett the younger, who followed him into the bookselling trade and who also had a stall at Westminster Hall in 1657, though perhaps this was jointly managed for a time by father and son. John Bartlett senior seems to have died some time between 1657 and 1660, so he would have been dead for a few years when his daughter Sarah married Magnus Byne in 1662. 

Magnus must have been fully aware of his father-in-law’s religious activities, and one can’t imagine him marrying into the family unless he shared John Bartlett’s opinions to some degree. So this new information goes some way to confirming my suspicion that my Sussex ancestors were Puritan sympathisers and almost certainly supporters of Parliament’s cause in the Civil War.

Parliament in the 17th century

Parliament in the 17th century

As to the question of how Magnus Byne, in his village rectory in Sussex, came to meet and marry the daughter of a London bookseller, the answer may lie in the number of Bartletts to be found in the Sussex registers. Although I have yet to find any definite records for Sarah or her father, there is a concentration of Bartlett baptisms in Burwash, where Magnus was born, and even closer to home in Keymer, the village that was paired with Clayton as part of the parish of which he was rector. Perhaps John Bartlett was born in Sussex but made his way to London as a young apprentice. This would anticipate the path trodden by at least two of Magnus Byne’s own sons. It seems highly likely that my 8 x great grandfather John Byne, who also became a London citizen and stationer, gained his introduction to that trade, if not from his controversial step-grandfather, then perhaps from his son, John Bartlett the younger, possibly as his apprentice.

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‘The scornful Quakers answered and their railing reply refuted’

In the last post I wrote about Edward Byne, a seventeenth-century clergyman with definite Puritan sympathies, who was ‘intruded’ as a fellow at his Cambridge college during the Civil War. Born in Sussex, Edward was the brother of my 9 x great grandfather, Magnus Byne, who was also a Church of England minister. We know less about Magnus’ religious beliefs, though it’s reasonable to assume that they were similar to those of his brother. As we shall see in the next post, the evidence for this includes the fact that his second wife was the daughter of a radical bookseller.

Magnus Byne’s main claim to fame is his diatribe against the Quakers, published in 1656. However, before discussing this publication and its significance, it may be helpful to supply a few details about my ancestor’s life and career. Magnus was born in 1615, in the twelfth year of the reign of King James I and in the last year of the life of William Shakespeare, in the village of Burwash, Sussex. He was the son of Stephen Byne, a yeoman farmer, and his wife Mary. While Magnus was still a child, Sir Walter Ralegh was beheaded, the ‘Mayflower’ sailed to the New World, and Charles I succeeded his father as king.

Emmanuel College Chapel, Cambridge

Emmanuel College Chapel, Cambridge

On 31st June 1631, when he was sixteen years old, Magnus Byne was admitted as a student at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Two years before, King Charles had dissolved Parliament and it would not meet for another eleven years. Magnus graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in 1634 and proceeded to the degree of M.A. in 1638. He was licensed to the curacy of Wadhurst, a few miles north of Burwash, on 9th December 1639, at the age of 24. Just seven months later, on 24th July 1640, Magnus was inducted to the rectory of Clayton-cum-Keymer, some thirty miles to the west. Later that year, King Charles was forced to recall Parliament as the result of a Scottish invasion, and in the following year there was insurrection in Ulster and the first stirrings of civil war in England.

Soon after taking up the post of rector at Clayton, Magnus Byne married his first wife, Anne. Born at Clayton in 1602, she was the daughter of William Wane, who was then the parish priest, and his wife Joan. As well as being the daughter of a former rector of Clayton, Anne had previously been married to the two incumbents who immediately preceded Magnus, John Bantnor and William Chowne, both of whom had died. So Anne lived her entire life at Clayton rectory. On 12th August 1640, Magnus Byne and Anne Chowne were married at the church of St Saviour, Southwark.

Clayton parish church, Sussex

Clayton parish church, Sussex

Anne would have five children with Magnus, all of them born in one of the most turbulent decades in English history. In 1642 civil war broke out in earnest and continued until the royalist surrender in 1646, followed by the execution of the King in 1649. Mary Byne was born in 1641 but died two years later; Anne was born in 1643 and died in 1662, at the age of nineteen; Stephen Byne was born in 1647 and Edward in 1649. Anne Byne’s last-born child was my 8 x great grandfather John, christened in 1651, the year in which the second Civil War broke out, culminating in the Battle of Worcester and the flight of Charles II.

John Byne’s early childhood would have been spent under the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, which lasted until the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. It was during this period, in 1656, that Magnus Byne published his famous attack on the Quakers. The Scornfull Quakers answered and their railing Reply refuted by the meanest of the Lord’s servants Magnus Byne was printed in London ‘by William Bentley for Andrew Crook at the sign of the green Dragon in Paul’s Church-yard’. In the same year 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 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.

Cover of Magnus Byne's book

Cover of Magnus Byne’s book

Magnus Byne’s diatribe seems to have been prompted by a personal encounter with two Quakers, Thomas Lawcock and Thomas Lawson. As Magnus states in his preface:

I had some dealing by conference and by questions and answers and replies on both sides. As concerning their questions propounded to me in writing I gave them but a brief answer not minding to make anything public unto the world knowing mine inability to come forth in print in the midst of such a variety of judgements abroad yet receiving a reply from Lawson full of lying and railings and evil surmisings I was pressed in my spirit to give some satisfaction unto my friends.

The book is composed in question-and-answer form and contains a good deal of personal invective, as well as intricate theological argument. In his opening address ‘To the Reader’, Magnus Byne encourages his reader to ‘be sober and quiet in spirit’ and practise ‘moderation’, and to beware of ‘men abused by the old Dragon’ (i.e. the Devil) who ‘seek to make void’ the Law of God’. He continues:

And among all the vanities which I have seen under the Sun, take heed of the two foolish, blind, mad, generations of Ranters and Quakers: The former of which I have seen the Lord scatter, and appear in great wrath to consume, rebuking the evil Spirit in them, and laying them open to their shame among their enemies: The latter of these I have had some dealings with, and finde them more furious and raging than all that have gone before them; and notwithstanding all their shew of holinesse, wisdom, humility, temperance; yet, by a little dealing with them, I finde nothing but impurity, folly, pride, madnesse, even to admiration and wonder, in all their doting questions, fowl mouthed answers, vain janglings, railing accusations, even as if Satan had left all others, and brought all his power along with him, to fill their hearts and tongues with all manner of blasphemies and evil speakings against all others, but their own deluded party.

Magnus tells the following story concerning the visit of the Quaker Thomas Lawcock to his own part of the country:

Take one passage of a great Prophet of their one, one Tho. Law-Cock, who, meeting at one Goodman Matthews house neare me, was called aside by the woman of the house, of good report, but almost turned a Quaker; to whom the woman in kindnesse said, Sir, will you eat something which I have provided? The Quaker replied, What shall I eat with Devils and Dogs? and pointing to a Dog, There’s thy Companion, thy fellow-creature, of the same nature with thy self, (saith the Quaker) and shall I eat with thee a Devil, a Dog? And was not this a good argument at the first meeting to perswade the woman to be a Quaker? And when the woman began to reply something to excuse her great sin of asking this man of God (as he calls himself) to eat, he opens his box again, and calls her Whore and Harlot; and was not this another good argument to perswade her?

Byne then proceeds to a theological dispute with Lawson, based on arguments that the latter put forward at ‘one meeting with some Baptists’, which Magnus obviously attended, since he continues:

Further, at the same meeting, when I was present, and beginning to lay upon his folly, (the Quaker exhorting to meeknesses and silence, and the like, but presently falling a railing, cursing, and roaring against Priests and hirelings) I asked him in patience how the speeches could hang together, we must be meek, calm, quiet, but he must roar and rage?

In reply, Lawcock railed against Magnus, calling him ‘a beast, and the like’ and ‘a belly-god’ and speaking ‘against the priesthood’. Byne then moves on to another Quaker, Thomas Lawson, arguing that the latter contradicted the teaching of his companion Lawcock: ‘Here’s no harmony you see amongst Quakers, but Quaker against Quaker, one against another’. Magnus reports that the two Quakers ‘propounded to me in writing’ a number of questions, to which he provided brief answers, ‘yet receiving a reply from Lawson, full of lying and railings, and evil surmisings, I was pressed in my spirit to give some satisfaction unto my friends of these mens folly and madnesse, as also of mine own experiences in the dealings of God with me, so far as concerns the matter in hand’. Hence the book that follows, whose arcane theological arguments I won’t attempt to summarise here.

Early Quaker meeting in London (via Wikipedia)

Early Quaker meeting in London (via Wikipedia)

Thomas Lawson was a former clergyman and noted botanist who gave up his living after hearing George Fox preach and joined the Quakers. We know that he and Lawcock were among the preachers who first brought Quakerism to Sussex in 1655, and that the latter was gaoled in Horsham in the same year after causing a disturbance in church and describing the vicar as the Antichrist. Magnus Byne’s publication prompted Lawson to write a reply, also published in 1656, the shorter version of whose title is The Lip of Truth opened against a Dawber with untempered Morter, A few words against a book written by Magnus Byne, Priest in the county of Sussex…   This book was printed for Giles Calvert (a prominent radical bookseller who sold many Quaker tracts, despite not being one of their number) ‘to be sold at the Black Spread-Eagle at the west end of Pauls.’ George Fox also responded to Byne’s accusations in his 1659 publication, The Great Mystery of the Great Whore unfolded, and AntiChrist’s kingdom revealed unto destruction.

With historical hindsight, Puritan intolerance and persecution of Quakers, which particularly in the colonies of New England often took a violent and punitive form, is difficult to comprehend. However, to Puritans, whether Anglican or Congregationalists, Quakers were quite simply heretics. What’s more, they were by no means the mild-mannered pacifists of modern Quakerism: Magnus Byne’s account of the Quakers’ disruptive and often violent tactics is echoed in other contemporary accounts.

Magnus Byne was not strictly speaking a dissenter, since his brand of Puritan Anglicanism was the established religion during the years of the Cromwellian Commonwealth. However, in the years before the Civil War, and again after the Restoration, Puritanism was out of favour and itself faced persecution, as we shall see when we consider the case of Magnus’ second father-in-law, the radical bookseller John Bartlett, the subject of my next post.

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Edward Byne (1623 – 1682): Puritan minister and ‘intruded’ college fellow

In the previous post I provided some background information about the Byne family of Sussex, including something of their religious history. I noted that two of the sons of my ancestor Stephen Byne, a yeoman farmer of Burwash, became clergymen. One of them was my 9 x great grandfather, Magnus Byne, and the other was his brother Edward. I plan to write about Magnus in a future post, but in this post I want to report what I’ve discovered about Edward Byne and his controversial role in the religious conflicts of his time.

Baptised at Burwash on 2nd December 1623, Edward Byne was admitted to Peterhouse, Cambridge, on 5th June 1639. One source claims that he was eighteen years old at the time, but if the date of his baptism is correct, then he was actually sixteen. His older brother Magnus had been of a similar age when he went up to Emmanuel College six years earlier. According to Walter Renshaw’s history of the Byne family, Edward was described at the time as ‘Londoniensis’, i.e. of London, and Renshaw speculates that this might have been because was at school there. Apparently there was an ‘Edward Bynes’ registered at Merchant Taylors’ School in 1629 and an ‘Edward Bines’ studying there in 1632. We know that the Byne family had an association with Merchant Taylors: Magnus Byne would send at least one of his own sons there, and two of his grandsons would attend the school in the 1690s.

Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Edward Byne arrived in Cambridge three years before the outbreak of the Civil War, and his career at the University reflects the religious and political turbulence of the times. Although he began his studies at Peterhouse, Edward migrated to Trinity College, where he gained his bachelor’s degree in 1644. He would eventually proceed to a Master’s degree at a third college, Gonville and Caius. However, he was initially refused this award because, according to a source quoted by Renshaw, ‘being only B.A. contrary to the laudable custom of the University he preached in the town, and in his preaching delivered divers things derogatory to the Scriptures’.

The precise nature of those ‘divers things’ remains unclear, but we can infer from other sources that Edward Byne’s sympathies were most definitely Puritan. Although Cambridge University had previously been largely royalist, with just a vocal minority of Puritan fellows, the Civil War and the advance of the Parliamentary cause brought about a fundamental change. According to one source:

In January 1644 a parliamentary ordinance entrusted the regulation of the University to [the Earl of] Manchester, who was to appoint a committee to eject those deemed unfit for their places, and to sequester their goods. He was also to take special care to enforce the Covenant. This inquisition resulted in a large number of ejections, and almost all the colleges suffered severely. […] The colleges which suffered most heavily were Peterhouse, Pembroke, Queens’, Jesus, St. John’s, and Trinity, where all or most of the fellows were turned out, and most of the others lost a considerable number […] The vacant places were filled by men approved by the Westminster Assembly of Divines and appointed by Manchester. No one, it was decreed, was to be admitted to an office in a college without a certificate that he had taken the Covenant.

The Covenant – otherwise known as the Solemn League and Covenant – was the religious union of England and Scotland under a Presbyterian system of church government. It was ratified by Parliament in August 1643 :

In January 1644, the Army of the Covenant marched into England against the Royalists. Parliament decreed that the Covenant was to be taken by every Englishman over the age of eighteen. Although no penalty was specified, the names of those who refused to sign were to be certified to Parliament. Signing the Covenant became a prerequisite for holding any command or office under Parliament.

Edward Byne obviously had no difficulty signing the Covenant, since at about this time he was ‘intruded’ as a fellow of Caius. The process of intrusion was the means by which approved appointees were imposed on a parish or other institution, usually after a previous incumbent had been ejected on theological grounds. Edward was also a ‘morning lecturer’ at the college in 1645 – a title that itself betrays his Puritan leanings, since these were posts that emphasised the pre-eminence of preaching over ritual. In 1646 he was appointed college registrar and in 1649 he was the rhetoric praelector.

The Solemn League and Covenant (title page)

The Solemn League and Covenant (title page)

Meanwhile, Manchester’s committee continued to eject ‘scandalous’ fellows who refused to sign the Covenant or were thought to be guilty of other ‘misdemeanours’. Finally, in 1649, following the execution of King Charles, the Master of Caius, Thomas Batchcroft, a committed royalist, was himself expelled, and it fell to Edward Byne to deliver the order for this. As one source puts it, with a degree of understatement, ‘this would naturally cause much friction and annoyance in college.’

A list of Cambridge alumni has Edward Byne as a fellow of Caius until 1652, though Renshaw claims that from 1649 he was (also?) a minister of the Cathedral Church at Ely, ‘in respect of which he received by way of augmentation or stipend for three months up to 25 December, 1649, the sum of £30 under orders of the Plundered Ministers’ Committee’, a body set up in 1643 by the Long Parliament for the purpose of replacing clergy loyal to the King.

Renshaw omits to mention other clerical appointments held by Edward Byne. Apparently in 1651 he was rector of Shere in Surrey. In the following year Edward married Martha, the only child of John Radford or Redford of Bermondsey, a London citizen and merchant tailor, and his wife Joan. I’ve been unable to find anyone by this name in the Bermondsey area at the time, but there was a John Redford living in Shere in the 1620s who seems to fit the bill. It’s possible that Redford moved to Bermondsey later, or that Shere was his country home. It’s difficult to determine whether Edward met Martha Redford as a result of his appointment to Shere, or whether the position came about because of a prior connection with the family.

Parish church, Pyworthy, Devon

Parish church, Pyworthy, Devon

A directory of Cambridge alumni notes that Edward Byne moved to the rectory of Upton Pyne, near Exeter, in 1655, at the height of Cromwell’s Protectorate, and remained there until 1660, the year in which the monarchy was restored. At that time he moved about fifty miles westward to the parish of Pyworthy. There was clearly some controversy about this latter appointment, which I’ve been struggling to untangle from the contemporary sources. It seems that a minister named John Kellond had been expelled from Pyworthy in about 1651, presumably because he was out of sympathy with the theological or political temper of the times, to be succeeded by another by the name of Legate, followed by a certain Michael Taylor. The latter was himself ejected at the time of the Restoration, since he would not conform under the Act of Uniformity. However, according to an admittedly partisan source:

Mr Kellond it seems, did not return to this Living but resign’d it to Mr Edward Byne, of whom there is a very indifferent Character given […] viz. that he never administered the Sacrament during the whole Time of his Abode at Upton Pyne. And that he gave up the Living to Mr. Hall, on the Restoration; and immediately after became Rector of Pyworthy; how honestly is another Question. 

The implication of this account is that Edward Byne was one of those who ‘conform’d for Benefices’ at the Restoration. This rather undermines the impression of Edward as a principled upholder of evangelical purity, and suggests rather that he bent with the prevailing wind. Alternatively, it could just be that his opinions had mellowed with age, and the accusation cited above might have been motivated by understandable resentment and disappointment on the part of those who were ejected. It’s also unclear whether his failure to administer the sacrament (i.e. holy communion) at Upton Pyne was out of a principled Puritan hostility to the notion of sacraments – or the result of straightforward laziness.

Whatever the truth of the matter, the Bynes remained at Pyworthy. From 1663, Edward was vicar of Linkinhorne, across the county border in Cornwall, though whether he retained the benefice of Pyworthy simultaneously is unclear. Renshaw notes that, in 1674, ‘having become infirm’ he arranged for William Herring to serve as curate at Linkinhorne, an arrangement that continued until Edward’s death on 6th February 1683.

Parish church, Linkinhorne, Cornwall (via

Parish church, Linkinhorne, Cornwall (via

Edward and Martha Byne had six children, all of them born in Devon. They were Edward Byne the younger, born on 26 October 1653 in the Cathedral Close in Exeter; Martha; Mary; Francis, born in 1665; Henry; and John. In his will (he died in 1682) Edward Byne devised the advowson (the right to appoint an incumbent) of Linkinhorne to his son Francis. He also bequeathed property in ‘Well Alley in Wapping’ to his wife Martha for the maintenance of Francis at university, and afterwards to his daughter Martha, who was married to yeoman farmer John Gliddon. Edward’s widow Martha made her own will in 1687, including bequests of land in the parish of St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey, which I assume she had inherited from her father John Redford. The theory that Edward Byne was a lazy or lax clergyman receives some support from a clause in Martha’s will that exonerates her executors from any costs or damages ‘for or by reason or meanes of any dilapidations permitted and suffered by the said Edward Byne my late Husband to be done and committed in and upon the Viccarage House of Linkinghorne in the County of Cornwall’.

Francis Byne followed his father into the Church. He graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, in 1688, and became vicar of Linkinhorne in 1690, in which post he remained until his death in 1724.

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The Byne family: an introduction

I began my exploration of ‘dissenting lives’ with the will of Elizabeth Greene of Stepney, which introduced a network of families, many with Puritan connections, in seventeenth-century London and Kent. My interest in Elizabeth Greene’s will was prompted by the possibility that she, or rather her late husband William Greene, might have been related to my 8 x great grandfather, Captain William Greene of Ratcliffe, who died in 1686.

However, the Greenes were not the only branch of my family to be found in seventeenth-century London, or the only members of my family with radical religious convictions. In 1701, Captain Greene’s son Joseph (my 7 x great grandfather), a London citizen and goldsmith, married Mary Byne, the daughter of his neighbour in Tower Hill, the citizen and stationer John Byne (1651 – 1689). Born in Sussex, the latter was the son of Magnus Byne (1615 – 1671), the rector of Clayton-cum-Keymer, who was in turn the son of yeoman farmer Stephen Byne of Burwash (1586 – 1684). I plan to write about some members of the Byne family and their Puritan connections in the next few posts. However, a brief survey of the family’s history, and the history of their religious affiliations, is needed by way of introduction.

Tower of London and Tower Hill in the late seventeenth century

Tower of London and Tower Hill in the late seventeenth century

The Bynes had been Protestant since at least the final decade of the sixteenth century, though there is evidence of residual loyalty to the Catholic faith in earlier generations. Magnus Byne was himself named after his maternal grandfather, Magnus Fowle of Mayfield (died 1595), who appears to have had recusant sympathies; while his father, Gabriel Fowle, a schoolmaster in Lewes, (died 1555), left an explicitly Catholic will and was reputed to be the brother of Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark.

However, not all members of the Fowle family remained loyal to the traditional faith. Nicholas Fowle of Wadhurst, a relative of Gabriel and Magnus who died in 1600, left an explicitly Protestant will in which he commended his soul to God ‘trusting by an assured faithe which I have in the promises of God and in the merits of the deathe and passion of my Lorde Jesus Christ my alone Saviour and Redemer his deare and onely sonne that the same shall be presented pure before the throne of his Majestie’ and directing that at his funeral there should be preached ‘a Sermon or godlie exhortation to admonish the hearers of a godly life’.

One of Nicholas Fowle’s daughters married into the Polhill family, who were ardent Protestants. The Polhills were also connected by marriage to my Byne ancestors. In 1604 Elizabeth Polhill married another Magnus Byne (1576 – 1647), the brother of my 10 x great grandfather Stephen, and Stephen’s own will was witnessed by the brothers Edward and John Polhill. Edward Polhill was a justice of the peace and notable Puritan author whose religious tracts were described as ‘somewhat Calvinistic in temper’, and of whom the New England Puritan leader Cotton Mather wrote, ‘Everything of Polhill is evangelical and valuable’.

edward polhill book cover

The second wife of this other Magnus Byne was Bathshua Newington, her first name suggesting Puritan sympathies. Two of Bathshua’s brothers married into the Puritan Hepden family: their wives were named Hopestill and Fearnot; and a third Hepden sister, Goodgift, married another Newington relative by the name of Zebulon. Magnus’ third wife, Elizabeth Manser, was the widow of Abraham Manser of Wenborne, who in turn was the uncle of Mary Manser who married Magnus’ brother Stephen. To complicate things still further, Elizabeth Manser had been born a Byne and was probably a cousin of Magnus; she had a sister with the distinctly Puritan name of Faintnot.

The Manser or Maunser family of Wadhurst appears to have been Protestant since the middle of the sixteenth century. Stephen Byne’s wife Mary Manser (my 10 x great grandmother) was the great-granddaughter of Christopher Manser of Hightown, whose will of 1545 was witnessed by ‘Sir Thomas Hothe, priest’, a former Augustinian friar who in 1533 was charged with ‘rejecting purgatory, tithes and payment on the four offering days, and of supporting clerical marriage, a vernacular translation of the New Testament, and justification by faith’. Hothe or Hoth went on to become an itinerant protestant preacher and is said to have radicalised a number of the Sussex Protestant martyrs who died during Queen Mary’s reign. There is also a suggestion that Hoth may himself have suffered for his beliefs, perhaps being identical with the Thomas Ahoth who is listed in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

An old map of East Sussex

An old map of East Sussex

Unusually for a yeoman farmer, my ancestor Stephen Byne sent two of his four sons to university and both became clergymen, a reflection perhaps of the family’s Protestant piety, as well as their relative wealth. My 9 x great grandfather Magnus Byne, born in Burwash in 1615, went up to the staunchly Puritan Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1631, graduating three years later and taking up the post of curate at Wadhurst in 1639, before his promotion to the rectory of Clayton in the following year. He is best known for a diatribe against the Quakers published in 1656. His younger brother Edward, who was born in 1623, matriculated at Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1639, and played a prominent role in the religious and political controversies that beset the university during the years of the Civil War.

I plan to examine the careers of both Byne brothers, and their intersection with the religious and political controversies of their times, in future posts.

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