Susan Hawkins and John Finch of Grovehurst

In recent posts I’ve been exploring the lives of the children of the recusant Sir Thomas Hawkins the elder of Boughton-under-Blean, Kent, who died in 1617. In this post, I’m turning my attention to Thomas’ daughter Susan or Susanna. The Boughton parish register for 1580 includes the following entry:

The vith of Septebr was bapt. Susan Haukins the Daughter of Thomas Haukyns the youngr. 

We know, from an account of the life of Susan’s brother, Henry Hawkins S.J., that she married John Finch of Grovehurst, at Milton-next-Sittingbourne, who was also said to be a recusant. Sittingbourne is about ten miles north-west of Boughton-under-Blean. Milton, in some documents called Middleton, is today a suburb of Sittingbourne and known as Milton Regis. A document reproduced at British History Online has this to say about Grovehurst:

Grovehurst, now usually called Grovers, is a manor situated somewhat less than a mile northward from the town of Milton. It was once the inheritance of a family of that name. Sir William de Grovehurst possessed it in the reigns of king Edward I and II as did his descendant Sir Richard Grovehurst in that of king Henry VII. At length Thomas Grovehurst, esq. in the reign of Edward VI alienated it to Clement Fynche, a branch of those of Netherfield, in Sussex, who were descended from Vincent Herbert, alias Finch, and ancestors of the several branches of this family from time to time created peers of this realm, whose arms they likewise bore.

It appears by the escheat-rolls of the 3rd year of queen Elizabeth, that he then held this manor in capite. He died in the 38th year of that reign and lies buried in the great chancel of this church, where is a monument erected to his memory, with the effigies of him, his two wives, and his son John Fynche, on it.

The thirty-eighth year of Elizabeth I’s reign was either 1595 or 1596 (my 11 x great grandfather John Manser of Wadhurst, Sussex, made his will on 26th December 1597 ‘in the fortieth yeare of the raigne of our soveraigne Lady Elizabeth’).

Finch family memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Milton Regis

Finch family memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Milton Regis

John Finch’s father Clement Finch was the son of another John Finch who died in 1549. He made his will in the previous year, the third year of the reign of Edward VI, describing himself as ‘John ffynche of Myddleton nexte Syttyngborn in the Countye of Kent, gent.’ One of the executors of the will was Christopher Roper, who was almost certainly the Member of Parliament from Lynsted, the brother of William Roper who married Sir Thomas More’s daughter Margaret, and the father of John Roper, first Baron Teynham.

We learn from John Finch’s will that he was married three times. His third wife, Margaret, who was still living, had previously been married to (Robert?) Piper and by him had two sons, Richard and Robert, and two daughters, Joan and Margaret. John Finch’s two previous wives were called Ursula and Alice. Alice was previously the wife of John Knatchbull (confusingly rendered as Snachbull in the transcription that I found online) and her maiden name was Fowle. She was said to be from Tenterden. There is also mention in the will of a Thomas Fowle of Mersham Hatch, near Ashford (about fifteen miles from Tenterden), who presumably was a relative. I haven’t been able to find any link between this branch of the Fowle family and my own Fowle ancestors, who can be traced to Lamberhurst (though my supposed ancestor Bartholomew Fowle, the prior of St Mary Overie, Southwark, at the time of its dissolution, was said to be from Lynsted). The Knatchbulls also lived at Mersham.

John and Alice Knatchbull appear to have had a number of children before John’s death in 1540. I’ve been unable to find out anything about their son John, but another son, William, married Catharine Greene, daughter of John Greene. A third son, Richard, was married twice and had four daughters by each wife. He also had a number of sons, including Thomas Knatchbull, whose son Norton (1602 – 1685) was a member of Parliament and was made a baronet. A fourth Knatchbull son, Reginald, married Anne Elizabeth Crispe, daughter of William Crispe, lieutenant of Dover Castle. One of Reginald and Anne’s sons, John Norton Knatchbull, became a Jesuit, while their daughter, Elizabeth Lucy Knatchbull, joined the English Benedictines in Belgium and was the first abbess of their convent in Ghent (see this source on the relationship between brother and sister, and between the Jesuits and the Benedictines in exile). Reginald’s and Anne’s two other sons each had two daughters who also joined the Benedictines.

Mary Knatchbull, daughter of John and Alice, married Thomas Finch, son of the John Finch who died in 1549. Thomas Finch seems to have been married twice. His second marriage was to Bennet Norton, the widow of William Norton of Hernehill, and the daughter of William Maycott of Preston next Faversham, whose property Thomas would inherit. I believe that Bennet’s first husband William Norton was related to the Thomas Norton of Fordwich whose daughter Aphra was briefly married to Henry Hawkins, who after her death joined the Jesuits. Bennet Finch died in in 1612. In his will of 1615 Thomas Finch mentions ‘my brother Reginald Knatchbull’ and ‘my nephew Thomas Knatchbull’, confirming that his marriage to Mary Knatchbull had preceded his marriage to Bennet. Thomas appointed his nephew John Finch of Grovehurst as his executor and left him Preston House, also mentioning his wife ‘Suzan’.

Memorial to Thomas and Bennet Finch in Preston parish church, Kent

Memorial to Thomas and Bennet Finch in Preston parish church, Kent

Thomas Finch had two brothers, Clement and Henry or Harry, both of whom are mentioned in their father’s will. Clement was the father of John Finch who married Susan Hawkins. I haven’t managed to find out much about him, but I suspect he was born in the 1540s and probably married (though we don’t have the name of his wife) in the late 1570s. However, we do know that he had another son besides John: I’ve found a baptismal record for Thomas Finch, son of Clement, in October 1580. There was also a daughter named Bennett who was christened at Milton in January 1582. She married Edward Hales of Chilham in about 1603 and they had five sons and seven daughters before Edward’s death on 10th January 1634. The will of Thomas Finch, brother of John, refers to ‘Bennet Hales, wife of Edward Hales, gent., my niece’. There is a plaque commemorating Edward and Bennet Hales in the north chancel of the parish church in Faversham (see below).

 

via flickr.com

via flickr.com

I imagine that John Finch and Susanna Hawkins were married some time in the first decade of the seventeenth century, and certainly by 1608. I’ve found evidence of a Susan Finch being born to John Finch of ‘Milton at Sittingbourne’ in 1609. We also know that John and Susan Finch’s daughter Elizabeth, who would join the English Benedictine convent in Ghent, was born in 1614. Since the will of Susan’s brother Sir Thomas Hawkins the younger, written in 1639, appoints his nephew Clement Finch as an overseer, I conclude that John and Susan Finch had a son of that name.

Elizabeth Finch took the additional name Aldegonde when she joined the Benedictines. She was clothed in Ghent on 13th December 1643 at the age of 29 and professed on 5th February 1647 at the age of 31. In 1665 Elizabeth left Ghent to help found another convent in Ypres, though she only stayed a year or so, returning to her former convent before the end of 1666. She died in Ghent on 1st February 1692 at the age of 78.

There’s firm evidence that Susan Hawkins remained true to her family’s Catholic faith after her marriage to John Finch. I’ve only found second-hand evidence of John’s recusancy, but the National Archives contains at least three documents attesting to Susan’s refusal to conform to the established protestant Church. In April 1607 an indictment in the records of the West Kent Quarter Sessions stated that ‘Susan, wife of John Finche of Milton, esquire, being over sixteen years of age “did not repaire” to the parish church of Milton or any other church for the space of two months.’ A similar indictment was issued in the following year. And on 15th January 1610 an Ecclesiastical Cause paper recorded the excommunication of a number of defendants, including ‘Lady Ann HAWKINS wife of Sir Thos H Boughton Blean, Sus FINCHE wife of John F Milton by Sittingbourne gent’: in other words, Susan Finch née Hawkins and her mother.

I’m not sure when John Finch died, but I’ve found a record of Susan’s death in 1641, which states that she was a widow. I assume that the Clement Finch of Grovehurst who made his will in 1645 was John and Susan’s son. If so, then during his relatively short life (he was probably only in his forties when he died), Clement and his wife Mary, who seems to have survived him, managed to produce four sons – John, Clement, Harbert and Charles – and three daughters – Mary Ann, Elizabeth and Philip (sic). There is evidence that John, Clement Finch’s eldest son and heir, maintained the family tradition of recusancy and as a result the family continued to be penalised after Clement’s death.

Judging by his will, there is no doubt that this Clement Finch held resolutely to the faith of his fathers, the preamble being the most explicitly Catholic that I’ve yet to come across, especially when we consider that it was written  at the height of the Civil War and proved during the fourth year of Cromwell’s Commonwealth:

First I bequeath my soule into the blessed hands of my deare Saviour Jesus Christ who redeemed it with his precious blood firmly beleiveing all whatsoever his Spouse the holy Catholic Church holds and teaches out of which there is noe salvation.

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