The title of George Eliot’s novel– slightly adapted in my heading – seems singularly appropriate to the life of my 9th great grandmother Anne Byne, the first wife of Magnus Byne. Her life story is noteworthy, not because of anything she actually achieved, but because of its peculiar circumstances. To put it in a nutshell: Anne spent all fifty years of her life at the rectory of Clayton-cum-Keymer in Sussex, first as the daughter of one rector, and then as the wife of no fewer than three of his successors.
The village of Clayton, Sussex
Anne’s life coincided with a period of dramatic change in English history. Born in 1611, in the eighth year of the reign of James I, the year in which the Authorised Version of the Bible was published and Shakespeare’s The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale were first performed, Anne was a young woman when Charles I was king, brought up her children during the tumult of the Civil War, and died a year after the Restoration of the monarchy.
Birth and background
Anne was the daughter of William Wane, who was already rector of Clayton when she was born, and his wife Joan. William Wane was born at Westerham, Kent in 1561, in the third year of the reign of Elizabeth I. He was ordained deacon on 28th May 1598 and priest on 24th June in the same year. Having served briefly as the curate of Wivelsfield, Sussex, he was appointed rector of Clayton-cum-Keymer. In his history of the Byne family, Walter Renshaw writes that William Wane was instituted to the rectory at Clayton on 9th December 1601, ‘on the presentation of Queen Elizabeth “ratione defectus liberatione Thomae Whiting generosi”‘, and inducted on 1st January 1601/2. He continues:
Some difficulty connected with the title to the advowson existed at this time, as on 25th November, 1601, Sir Edward Michelborne wrote to Sir Robert Cecil stating that he claimed the patronage. In 1603, however, Sir Edward was returned as being the patron. Thomas Whiting was closely related to Sir Edward Michelborne.
Edward Michelborne of Clayton (c.1562 – 1609) was a soldier, adventurer and Member of Parliament who was implicated in the the Earl of Essex’s rebellion of 1601. However, this note by Renshaw is particularly interesting to me because of the other name mentioned: Thomas Whiting. It may be mere coincidence, but this was also the name of the father-in-law of Stephen Byne, Magnus and Anne Byne’s eldest son, who would hold the advowson for Clayton for a time after his father’s death. Thomas Whiting was a London citizen and joiner who helped to prepare pageants for the Lord Mayor’s show in 1659, 1660 and 1662, and in 1661 worked on the entertainments for the coronation of Charles II. He also played a part in the rebuilding of the church of St Edmund the King, Lombard Street, and in the design of Brewers’ Hall, both of which replaced buildings destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666.
Anne Wane was christened at Clayton, presumably by her father, on 2nd March 1611. I haven’t found evidence of any other children born to William and Joan Wane. According to one source, in 1606/7, William ‘was in trouble with the Court on account of his relations with a woman named Ellenor Poulter’, though the exact nature of those ‘relations’ and its impact on his family and his position remains unknown. He died in 1626, in the second year of the reign of Charles I, and was buried at Clayton on 22nd September. I don’t know when Anne’s mother Joan died, but I have reason to believe that she predeceased her husband.
In the early decades of the seventeenth century, the advowson for Clayton-cum-Keymer passed through a number of hands before being purchased by John Batnor, the puritanical and possibly deranged rector of Westmeston, just a few miles to the east of Clayton. In his will of 1624 Batnor entrusted the adowson to four people, including ‘my unnaturall and undutifull sonne’ Richard, and stated his wish that the post of rector should be conferred on his son-in-law Henry Cooper, the husband of his daughter Joan. However, this hardly reflected any confidence in Cooper, whom Batnor commanded ‘upon danger of a curse from God to continue incumbent of the said living […] sincerely preaching the sacred word of God without any fantasticall conceits or divelish brethings’. Batnor’s will went on to abuse his other sons, noting that John, the eldest of them, ‘on 15th July, 1623, cursed me with a bitter curse calling me hellhound and challenging mee to be worse than the divell for the divell loved his own’. One can only speculate as to what life in the Batnor household must have been like.
Interior of Clayton parish church, Sussex (via englishbuildings.blogspot.
Renshaw informs us that, on John Batnor senior’s death in 1626, the probate was revoked by sentence: ‘it is in charity to be hoped on the grounds of the testator’s insanity’. The result was that the advowson of Clayton devolved upon John Batnor junior, who took up the post in September 1626, arriving in the parish just six days after William Wane’s funeral. The younger John Batnor had been born in Westmeston in 1595/6, became a deacon in 1618, and was ordained as a priest on 18th December 1625.
On 9th July 1628, a little under two years after his arrival in Clayton, John Bantor married Anne Wane. He was about thirty years old at the time, though she would have been only seventeen. It’s possible that John Bantnor found the orphaned Anne living in the rectory when he arrived, and took responsibility for her, marrying her when she reached an appropriate age.
I’ve found christening records for two children born to John and Anne Bantnor. A daughter named Anne was baptised at Clayton on 17th May 1631, while a son named Thomas was christened there in 1635. John Batnor died in 1638 when he was about 42 years old. Anne would have been about 27 at the time.
The next incumbent of Clayton was William Chowne, who was instituted as rector on 17th July 1638. He was the eldest surviving son of Thomas Chowne Esquire of Alfreston and his wife Rachel Campion, and grandson of Sir George Chowne, who had been the Member of Parliament for Rochester in 1593. Rachel was the daughter of William Campion of Camberwell and the sister of Sir William Campion, the Royalist leader who would be killed during the Siege of Colchester in 1648. Some sources suggest that William Chowne was the person of that name who went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1625 and was later a fellow of St John’s College.
Sir William Campion (via Colchester and Ipswich Museums)
Four months to the day after his arrival in Clayton, on 17th October 1638, William married the widowed Anne Bantnor née Wane. Perhaps, like his predecessor, he found Anne living in Clayton rectory on his arrival there, possibly with two young children (we know that her son Thomas, at least, survived to adulthood), and felt moved to take them under his wing.
I’ve found a baptismal record for a William Chowne, born to William and Anne and christened at Clayton on 5th October 1639. Sources tell us that this child died in infancy, though he was still alive when his father William made his will in May 1640, since a number of properties were bequeathed to him and his mother Anne. William Chowne senior was buried at Clayton on 10th June 1640, just two years after his arrival in the parish, leaving Anne a widow for the second time.
Six weeks later, a new rector arrived in Clayton, fresh from his curacy in Wadhurst. This was Magnus Byne, my 9th great grandfather, and destined to become Anne’s third husband. Magnus was inducted to the rectory of Clayton-cum-Keymer on 24th July 1640. He was 25 years old, four years younger than Anne. On 12th August 1640, ‘Magnus Bines’ (sic) and Anne Chowne were married at the church of St Saviour, Southwark.
I’m intrigued by this choice of location. There seems to be a longstanding association with Southwark on the part of both the Byne and Manser families (Magnus Byne’s mother Mary was born a Manser). Magnus’ youngest son, also named Magnus, would later live in the borough, close to the Marshalsea (and thus to St Saviour’s), working as an apothecary. John Manser, the second son of William Manser of Hightown, was said to be ‘of Southwark’ at the time of the Visitation of Sussex in 1633-4.
But the connection with Southwark, and particularly with its parish church, goes back further than that. Magnus Byne’s grandfather, Edward Byne of Burwash, married Agnes, the daughter of Magnus Fowle of Mayfield. As I’ve written before, Magnus was the son of Gabriel Fowle of Southover, Lewes, who died in 1559. One of Gabriel’s brothers was said to be Bartholomew Fowle, the last prior of St Mary Overy, Southwark, which he was forced to surrender at the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The priory church would later become the parish church of St Saviour, and later the Anglican cathedral of Southwark.
Magnus and Anne Byne had five children together over the next decade or so, coinciding with the period of the Civil War. Despite the Royalist connections of Anne’s previous husband, there seems little doubt that the Byne family, like most of the people of Sussex, were supporters of the Parliamentary faction (though, of course, many families had divided loyalties during the war). As we’ve seen, Magnus Byne’s brother Edward, also an Anglican minister, was a notorious Puritan controversialist when he was at Cambridge in the 1640s, and after Anne’s death, Magnus would marry the daughter of another prominent Puritan (to be discussed in a future post).
Magnus and Anne Byne’s daughter Mary was baptised at Clayton on 29th July 1641 but died in infancy and was buried there on 26th August 1643; their daughter Ann was baptised there on 18th January 1643 but died at the age of twenty in 1662/3; their son Stephen was born in 1649; Edward was next, though the exact date of his birth is unknown; and John (my 8th great grandfather) was baptised on 11th March 1651/2.
Anne Byne died at the age of 50 and was buried at Clayton on 11th March 1661/2, a little less than a year after the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. There may have been an epidemic or outbreak of plague in the area at the time, since Thomas Bantnor, Anne’s son from her first marriage, was buried at Clayton three days later; he was 26 years old. In his will Thomas named his half-sister Ann Byne as his executrix, but she died a year after him, being buried on 7th February 1662/3; she was nineteen years old.
What are we to make of the strange circumstances of Anne Wane’s life? The fact that she was married to three successive rectors of Clayton seems to be evidence that, before the modern era, women were regarded as a superior kind of property. When John Bantnor, William Chowne and Magnus Byne each in turn became rector of Clayton, it appears that Anne literally ‘came with the territory’, and marrying her was almost a condition of their appointment.
Nor, it seems, was this a unique case. Adrian Tinniswood’s book about the Verneys, a prominent seventeenth-century family, includes the story of the newly-appointed rector of a Buckinghamshire parish, who was unable to take possession of the rectory because the former incumbent’s widow refused to move out. After protracted but unsuccessful negotiations, he solved the problem by marrying her. Did something similar happen in the case of my ancestor Anne Wane? And does that mean that none of her marriages, including her last marriage to my 9th great grandfather Magnus Byne, were for ‘love’? Or does Anne’s story emphasise the futility of trying to impose modern notions on people living in very different times?
It’s frustrating that we don’t have access to my 9th great grandmother’s side of the story. Did she insist on remaining in the rectory when her father, and then her first two husbands died, like the woman from Buckinghamshire mentioned above? Perhaps the marriages were actually her idea, a way of securing a home for herself and her children, rather than something that was imposed on her? There’s no way we can ever know.