In my post about the Langworth family, I noted that at least two of the daughters of Dr John Langworth (d. 1613), the cleric and poet described by at least one source as a church papist, married into Catholic families. One of these was Helen, also known as Eleanor, who married London citizen and haberdasher Nathaniel Spurrett. To be precise, evidence of Catholic sympathies is to be found in documents relating specifically to Nathaniel and Helen, and to their daughter Frances, who became a Franciscan nun. The information about the wider Spurrett family is (as with the Langworths) rather less straightforward.
I’ve yet to find a baptismal record for Helen Langworth, but (judging by the date of her marriage) I would imagine she was born in the 1590s. According to the record of the Kent Visitation of 1619, she was the fourth daughter of John and Frances Langworth, born after Mary and Ann but before Martha. She is described in the record as ‘Helena p’mo nupta Nathaniel Spurrett civis Londiniensis’.
I haven’t seen a copy of John Langworth’s will, but it’s curious that the summary of it in the Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica makes no mention of Helen, though she would have been alive in 1613 when it was made. However, the complete list of John Langworth’s children, beneath the will summary, includes ‘Helen, wife of Nathaniel Spurrett, gent.’
My initial source of information about Nathaniel Spurrett’s background was an article about his father Anthony on a Spurrett family history website. From this I gather that Anthony Spurrett was born in about 1548, in the first year of the reign of Edward VI, to William Sporrytt, a husbandman in Woodhouse, in Wharfedale, Yorkshire. It appears that Anthony attended the school in the neighbouring village of Burnsall, whose vicar recommended him to St John’s College, Cambridge as a sizar – in other words, a student who receives financial support in return for working for the college in some way, for example as a servant to wealthier students.
No record of Anthony Spurrett’s graduation from Cambridge exists, but according to the same source he was at first employed by the Bishop of Worcester, the city where he married his first wife, the parish record describing him as a ‘clergieman’ (clergy had only been allowed to marry since 1548, the year of Anthony’s birth). According to at least two sources his wife’s name was Margaret Unwin. In 1573, in the fourteenth year of the reign of Elizabeth I, Anthony Spurrett was appointed rector of Wolford in Warwickshire, under the patronage of Merton College, Oxford. A year later he took on the additional role of vicar of nearby Icomb, which was then in Worcestershire but is now in Gloucestershire. His first wife having died, Anthony married Ann Wilson in Icomb in 1588.
It appears that Anthony Spurrett had three sons, of whom Nathaniel was the youngest. However, his will of 1616 mentions only Nathaniel and his brother George, the executor of the will, though there is also a reference to a Robert Spurrett of Maugersbury, about five miles from Icomb. George Spurrett seems to have been married and to have had at least two daughters, Anne and Susan. Another family tree found online at Ancestry claims that he also had a son named Samuel and that the family lived at Siddington near Cirencester.
Given his son Nathaniel’s later religious affiliation, it would seem reasonable to assume that Anthony Spurrett was also sympathetic to the traditional Catholic faith, even though (like Dr John Langworth) he chose not only to conform but to serve the Church of England as a parish priest. However, his will gives little inclination of Anthony’s religious proclivities: certainly, the preamble expresses none of the dogged dependence on salvation through Christ’s Passion alone of outright protestants, but neither does it use any of the formulas, such as trust in the Holy Trinity, of Catholic or Catholic-leaning wills of the time. Instead, Spurrett simply commends his soul ‘into the hands of the Almightie’: though perhaps this very simplicity could be interpreted as a way of avoiding showing one’s hand, so to speak? (I’m sure that the subject of will preambles will be something this blog returns to regularly).
Since Nathaniell Spurrett was a London citizen and haberdasher, I would imagine that he was sent to London as a young man to be apprenticed, as a number of my ancestors would be later in the same century. For example, my 8 x great grandfather John Byne (1651 – 1689), a stationer at Tower Hill, was also the son of a rural clergyman, Magnus Byne, rector of Clayton-cum-Keymer in Sussex. And John Byne’s father-in-law, Thomas Forrest (died 1678), was himself a haberdasher in the same district, having been born in rural Worcestershire. In fact, it’s possible that Nathaniell lived in the same part of London as my ancestors, since he married Helen Langworth at St Botolph, Aldgate, the church which they also frequented. The parish register of St Botolph records that in October 1611 ‘Nathaniell Spurrett, and Hellen Langworth, were marryed the xxith day, by a Licence’. This was in the eighth year of the reign of James I, the same year that the King James Bible was published and six years after the Gunpowder Plot. Two weeks after the Spurretts’ wedding, Shakespeare’s Tempest would be staged for the first time.
We know from a number of sources that Nathaniel and Helen Spurrett had only one child – a daughter named Frances. She is mentioned in the family history article that I’ve already referred to, and in the wills of both her parents, as well as this bequest in the will of her paternal grandfather Anthony Spurrett:
I give unto the daughter of my son Nathaniel ten pounds of lawful money of England to be sett forth unto her use at her age of ten yeares by my Executor and the use of it to be payed to her selfe, but if she die before her age of ten yeares, then I appoint the money to returne to Susan Spurrett the youngest daughter of my sonne George Spurrett.
I’ve found a christening record for a Frances Spurrett on 22nd August 1613 at Ringmer in Sussex. The parents’ names are not given, but both the date and the location make it very likely that this is the daughter of Nathaniel and Helen. Helen’s father John Langworth had been vicar of nearby Buxted, while her uncle Arthur Langworth had actually lived in Ringmer, at Broyle Place, until his death in 1606.
So one possibility is that Ringmer had sentimental associations for the Langworth family. Another is that the church was chosen, as must sometimes have happened, because of its incumbent. The vicar of West Firle and Ringmer until his death in 1604 had been John Motley, who was appointed as one of the overseers of the will of Magnus Fowle, my 12 x great grandfather. Motley was followed by Edward Wood, with Marmaduke Browne as curate, until the appointment in 1611 of Simon Aldrich. He was the son of Francis Aldrich, registrar of the Archbishop’s Consistory Court of Canterbury, and he was married in the parish church of St George, Canterbury. This was the parish church of the playwright Christopher Marlowe, who seems to have been an acquaintance. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to discover anything about Simon Aldrich’s religious or political sympathies, but the Canterbury connection (given that Helen Langworth grew up in the city and her father held an appointment at the Cathedral) might be relevant.
Nathaniel Spurrett died in February 1614 at the age of 33, less than a year after his daughter’s birth and after less than three years of marriage. I’ll share my transcription of his will in the next post.