Reflections on the will of Sir Thomas Hawkins

What insights can we glean from the last will and testament of Sir Thomas Hawkins of Boughton-under-Blean, Kent, who died in 1617, a transcription of which I shared in the previous post? For example, does the will throw any light on Sir Thomas’ religious beliefs?

The opening lines of the will of Sir Thomas Hawkins

The opening lines of the will of Sir Thomas Hawkins

The explicitly ‘religious’ section of the will, the part dealing with the fate of the testator’s soul, before he gets down to the practical business of disposing of his property, is much longer than in many contemporary wills – nearly 400 words by my estimation. And it seems much less explicitly Catholic than other recusant wills. Indeed, in places the language is difficult to distinguish, at least to my untrained eyes, from that of many Protestant wills of the period, with its emphasis on the author’s wretched sinfulness, his ‘belief in god the sonne my onely Redeemer and Saviour by whose most previous death and bloudshedd both I and all mankynde else have meanes to be saved’ and the claim that he is ‘trusting assuredlye that in the precious bloudshedd and passion of my sweete Saviour Christ to be one of them that shall inherit his everlasting kingdome which god grannte for his sweete sonnes sake Jesus Christ’. A later sentence seems to express an almost Calvinistic hope that Sir Thomas will be ‘saved amonge his elect which god grant even for his sonnes sake Jesus Christ’.

How are we to explain this? Firstly, we need to remember that historians warn against over-interpeting will preambles. Eamon Duffy has a useful discussion of this issue in The Stripping of the Altars (2005). He writes: ‘[P]reambles which simply declare trust in the merits or Passion of Christ cannot be assumed to be Protestant or even “reformist”.’ Quoting an example of a sixteenth-century will that, like Sir Thomas Hawkins’, emphasises salvation through the merits of Christ’s Passion, Duffy adds: ‘There is nothing necessarily Protestant about this sort of formula; as a matter of fact…many wills containing similar sentiments were made by Catholics in England before, during, and after the Reformation’. Elsewhere Duffy warns against assuming ‘that pre-Reformation Catholics needed to be told that Christ was in a unique and special sense their divine Saviour’. Duffy and other revisionist historians of the Reformation have demonstrated that there was more continuity between pre-Reformation Catholic spirituality and post-Reformation Protestant piety than some have imagined: indeed, the latter should be seen as emerging from developments in the former, rather than simply appearing out of thin air.

A second point to make is that wills were legal documents and not intended as a confessional expression of personal belief, as we would understand it. Wills often tended to draw on stock, ‘ready-made’ formulations, especially if they were composed by, or with the assistance of, a lawyer or scrivener. There may have been good reasons why, in a public text of this kind, a known recusant like Sir Thomas Hawkins chose to emphasise certain aspects of his faith and place less emphasis on others.

Parish church and surroundings, Boughton-under-Blean (via flickr.com)

Parish church and surroundings, Boughton-under-Blean (via flickr.com)

It may seem surprising, too, that Hawkins decrees that his body should be buried in the parish church at Boughton, and that he bequeaths money to the local vicar. With historical hindsight, it is tempting, but rather anachronistic, to see Catholicism and Anglicanism in this period as completely separate structures. From the perspective of Jacobean Catholics like Sir Thomas Hawkins, it was less than a century since the English Church had broken away from the universal Catholic Church of which it had been a part for a millennium. Indeed, in Sir Thomas’ own lifetime, under Queen Mary, that breach had been healed, albeit temporarily, and it was the dearest hope of Catholics that it might happen again, perhaps under a different monarch (there had been some hopes of this, or at least of greater toleration, before the accession of James, but these had been cruelly dashed). Against this background, the local parish church was not yet seen as the territory of an alien sect, but as the historical home of the universal Church, temporarily occupied by a schismatic faction. Not only that, but noble families like the Hawkinses could visit the parish church and see the tombs and monuments erected to their Catholic ancestors on prominent display: the monument to Sir Thomas Hawkins the elder is still one of the most best-known features of Boughton church. Why should they not expect to be buried in the same place, and with the same degree of pomp, as their predecessors?

At the same time, it’s worth noting that Sir Thomas’ bequest of thirteen shillings to the vicar of Boughton is recompense ‘for my tythes forgotten’. Forgotten – or deliberately withheld? It’s important to remember that members of the Hawkins family were regularly indicted for not conforming to the established Church. The parish records of Boughton from 1587 declare that ‘Mr [sic] Thomas Hawkins the elder [Sir Thomas’ father] hath not received the communion at Easter last past.’ A similar accusation is made against ‘Mr. Thomas Hawkins the younger, and his wife’ and various members of their household, including ‘Greene a schoolmaster in Mr Hawkins’ house’. In the records for 1603 we read: ‘We present Mr. Thomas Hawkins and his wife…..for that they have not received the communion this last Easter within our parish at Boughton Blean’. In the years following Sir Thomas’ death, there are records of numerous similar accusations being made against his sons and their families.

I’ve not been able to discover anything about William Place, the vicar of Boughton from 1589 to 1637. However, I’ve discovered that a later vicar, Samuel Smith, had definite Laudian (i.e. ‘high church’) sympathies and that these, together with some rash words about Parliament, got him into trouble during the Civil War.

Benedictine nuns (via http://world4.eu)

Benedictine nuns (via http://world4.eu)

If cautiousness about expressing his Catholic beliefs too openly in a public document lay behind Sir Thomas’ published aspirations for his eternal soul, then similar motives may have led him to exclude two of his children from his will. There is no mention in the document of Sir Thomas’ son Henry Hawkins, who had fled abroad to join the Jesuits two years before his father made his will, and who would return to England, only to be captured and sent back into exile a year after his father’s death. Nor is there any reference to Sir Thomas’ daughter Bennet or Benedicta, who had been professed as a Benedictine nun five years earlier, at the age of twenty-five. Benedicta, whose name in religion was Sister Barbara Benedict, had paid a dowry of 3800 florins, presumably provided by her family, on entering her Belgian convent. It’s likely that Henry Hawkins had received similar material support. Since being a Catholic priest and joining a Catholic religious order were criminal offences in England, I assume that aiding and abetting priests and religious were also proscribed. Hence, perhaps, Sir Thomas’ silence in his will about these members of his family.

Those children of Sir Thomas Hawkins and his wife Ann (who I assume predeceased him, since she is not mentioned) who are referred to in the will are as follows: Thomas Hawkins, his eldest son, who is named as ‘my sole and onelie Executor’; John Hawkins, ‘doctor of physicke’; Ziriach or Cyriac Hawkins, ‘my youngest sonne’; ‘my sonne Richard Hawkins’, the husband of Mary Hawkins née Langworth; ‘my daughter Susanne Fynch the wife of John Finch Esquier’; and Anne Hilsley [or Hildesley] my daughter the wife of William Hilsley’. We shall have more to say about all of these in later posts. Also missing from this list is Sir Thomas’ son Daniel, who I believe died in infancy or as a young man.

Other relatives bequeathed money or property in Sir Thomas’ will include his sister ‘Jonne [Joan?] Brewer, the wife of Thomas Brewer, who may have been the Kent landowner of that name whose property was later sequestered on account of his recusancy. Also mentioned in the will is Mary Pettit, widow of Henry Pettit, who I believe to have been Sir Thomas’ brother-in-law, the son and heir of Cyriac Pettit. William Pettit, another beneficiary of the will, was probably Henry’s son. As for Sir Thomas Hawkins’ ‘cosen’ Anne Breadstreete, she may have been the husband of the Christopher Bradstreet, named as a tenant of one of Sir Thomas’ properties later in the will. I’ve found a christening record for a Christopher Bradstreet, son of Christopher, in Boughton in 1615, though it’s unclear how the Bradstreets were related to the Hawkins family.

The Roper chapel in Lynsted church (via photo4me.com)

The Roper famiy chapel in Lynsted church (via photo4me.com)

‘Katherine Rooper the wife of Henry Rooper’, who is to receive ‘a double soveraigne of gould of the valewe of two and twentie shillings’, was almost certainly a member of the famous Roper family of Kent that I’ve discussed before. Henry Rooper or Roper may have been the son of Anthony Roper of Faringham, and it’s likely he belonged to the branch of the family that lived at Linsted Lodge near Sittingbourne and would later include the barons of Teynham. It’s perhaps relevant that Henry Hawkins, S.J, Sir Thomas’ son, would dedicate his History of St Elizabeth, published in 1632, to Lady Mary Roper, daughter of Christopher Roper, the second Baron Teynham. Lady Mary ended her life as the abbess of a Benedictine convent in Ghent. I’ve also read that the Ropers were connected with the Pettits of Boughton by marriage.

Finally, Sir Thomas Hawkins’ will provides a reminder of the family’s considerable wealth. We learn from the will that Sir Thomas owned property in a number of parishes throughout Kent besides Boughton, including nearby Hernhill, Selling, Chilham and Faversham, and further afield in Whitstable, Seasalter, Graveney, Broomfield and Leeds (near Maidstone). Clearly, recusancy was not necessarily incompatible with extensive land ownership, and not all recusant families suffered the sequestration of their property.

In the posts that follow, I’ll be exploring the lives of some of Sir Thomas Hawkins’ illustrious offspring.

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