In the last few posts, I’ve been exploring the lives of London haberdasher Nathaniel Spurrett, who died in 1614, his wife Helen Langworth, who died in 1625, and their daughter Frances, who was born in 1613 and died in a Franciscan convent in Belgium in 1635. After examining a range of documents relating to the Spurrett family, including the wills of Nathaniel and Helen, I’ve concluded that they were closely connected to some of the foremost recusant families of their day. It appears that the Spurretts lived in Southwark, possibly in Montague Close and under the protection of the Catholic Viscount Montague; Nathaniel’s executor Matthew Woodward, a convicted recusant, was certainly employed by Montague. After Nathaniel’s death, it seems that Helen and Frances were taken under the wing of the recusant Roper family of Eltham, and were supported financially by a number of leading Catholics, including Lord Windsor of Bradenham. It may well have been Thomas Roper, Helen’s executor, who entrusted the orphaned Frances Spurrett to the care of the recently-established English Franciscan convent in Brussels, where she was later professed as a nun.
Nathaniel and Helen Spurrett provide a fascinating case study of the complex and shifting religious identities to be found in early seventeenth-century England. As I’ve noted before, both were the children of Church of England clergymen, at least one of whom (Helen’s father, Dr John Langworth) was said to be a church papist; neither (as far as we know) was convicted of recusancy; and yet they counted among their associates some of the country’s leading recusant families; and their daughter became a Catholic nun.
Having exhausted (for now) the available information on the Spurretts, I’m moving on to explore the recusant connections of Helen Langworth’s sister Mary, who married into another Catholic family, and whose daughter also joined an English religious community in Belgium. I haven’t found a baptismal record for Mary Langworth, but I understand that her husband, Richard Hawkins, was born in about 1581, so I imagine that they were married some time in the first decade of the seventeenth century, during the early years of the reign of James I. As I noted in my earlier post about the Langworths, Richard was the son of Sir Thomas Hawkins of Nash Court in Boughton under Blean, near Canterbury, and his wife Ann, the daughter of Cyriac and Florence Pettit, also of Boughton. Since Mary’s father John Langworth was prebendary of Canterbury Cathedral, and owned a number of properties outside the city, one imagines that the two families might have been neighbours. Even so, the marriage between Mary and Richard suggests a surprising degree of familiarity between a conforming and high-ranking Church of England cleric and a leading recusant family.
In this post, I’ll provide some background to the Hawkins family, before focusing in later posts on specific members of the family. Richard Hawkins was (I believe) the fourth son of Sir Thomas Hawkins. His older brothers, to whom we shall return in later posts, were Sir Thomas Hawkins the younger, a translator of recusant texts; Henry Hawkins, the Jesuit priest and author; and Daniel. Another brother, John, was a physician and author; and there was a sixth brother named Cyriac. Richard’s sister Susan or Susanna, who was a year older than him, married the recusant John Finch of Grovehurst, at Milton near Sittingbourne. Another sister, Anne or Anna, married William Hildesley of Oxfordshire, also a recusant. The youngest Hawkins sister, Bennet or Benedicta, who was born in about 1587, became a Benedictine nun and, like her Franciscan nieces Mary Hawkins and Frances Spurrett, ended her days in a convent in Brussels.
Sir Thomas Hawkins the elder had been born at Boughton under Blean in 1548, during the reign of Edward VI. Boughton lay on the main road between London and Canterbury and was the first place from which travellers were able to see the towers of the latter city, a fact which earns the village a mention in ‘The Canon Yeoman’s Prologue’ in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Thomas was the son of another Thomas Hawkins who died in 1588, apparently at the age of 101, and was buried with his wife in the north chancel of Boughton church. His tomb carries the following inscription:
He served King Henry VIII, which won him same, who was a gracious prince to him, and made well to spend his aged days; that he was high of stature, his body long and strong, excelling all that lived in his age.
On 12th September 1574 Thomas Hawkins the younger married Ann Pettit, then aged twenty-two, from another Catholic family, the Pettits of Colkyns. Ann’s parents were Cyriac Pettit and his wife Florence Charnoke. In 1543 Pettit had been involved in the so-called Prebendaries’ Plot which denounced Thomas Cranmer for his excessive reforming zeal. During Queen Mary’s reign he was a Member of Parliament and was close to the Roper family, one of whose members – Christopher, brother of Sir Thomas More’s son-in-law William Roper – was a neighbour of the Pettits. He was buried on 15th October 1591 in Boughton parish church, where a brass plate was erected in his memory.
Despite the fact that Sir Thomas Hawkins was openly Catholic, with a son who was a Jesuit priest and a daughter a Benedictine nun, he and his family do not seem to have suffered unduly from the Elizabethan and Jacobean penal laws. According to one account of the life of Thomas’ son Henry: ‘There is evidence that Hawkins and his family were somewhat privileged through connections with the court and nobility and may at times have been protected from the full rigour of punitive measures that other recusants had to suffer.’
Sir Thomas Hawkins the elder died in 1617, his wife Ann having predeceased him. His last will and testament is a useful source of information about the Hawkins family and their connections, and I’ll share my transcription of it in the next post.