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Washingtons » Lawrence Washington (c1500 - 1584), the builder of Sulgrave Manor

Key points:

Born around 1500 in the North of England
Victorian representation of Lawrence
Victorian representation of
Lawrence in Northampton’s
Nephew of Sir Thomas Kytson
Served Lord Parr as Bailiff of Warton, a senior estate manager
Went to Northampton – probably on estate business
Married rich widow of Northampton wool trader and took over his property and business, becoming Mayor of Northampton
Widowed and married another rich widow, Amy Pargiter who had leases on land in Sulgrave and elsewhere
Bought the freehold of lands in Sulgrave and Stuchbury, the adjoining parish, in 1539 and built manor house
Had eleven children, remarrying after Amy’s death in 1564 (see details )
Continued as a sheep farmer and wool trader
Died in 1584

Marital shield celebrating
Marital shield celebrating
the Washington-Kytson

LAWRENCE WASHINGTON, who built Sulgrave Manor, was born around 1500, the eldest son of John Washington of Warton, Lancashire, and his wife Margaret Kytson, daughter of Robert Kytson of Warton and sister of Thomas1 who was to become a great Tudor merchant, building Hengrave Hall in Suffolk.

Papers from the Duchy of Lancaster reveal that on 26 July, 1529 Lawrence was serving as Bailiff2 at Warton – an hereditary office in his family – to William, Lord Parr of Horton, by whom Lawrence was said to be "greatly alyed and [be] frendyd"3. The Parrs had inherited the barony of Kendal, in which Warton was situated; and William, Lord Parr, who is further described as "cheif ruler of alle the said country [i.e. around Warton]", was looking after the Kendal barony during to the minority of his nephew, William Parr of Kendal (born 1510, later Marquess of Northampton), the brother of Queen Katherine Parr, last wife of King Henry VIII.

Thus, through his maternal relations and through his employment, Lawrence was linked, as a young man, to two families of significance in the political and economic world of Tudor England. Links like these in a world without modern communications and with a very different view of social relations were of critical importance in helping a young man to get on. At the very least these links acted like modern employment references, allowing men doing business together to have some surety of the other’s good faith. At the most, they formed part of a complex network of favours between men, with one family offering opportunities to a member of another family and the favour being returned by, perhaps, an entirely different branch of the family. Patronage – the exercise of favours by the powerful in return for support from the chosen – was, then, the way things got done, entirely respectable and necessary in a very different world.

Lord Parr also owned land in Northamptonshire through his wife, Mary Salisbury, who inherited Horton, six miles south-east of Northampton. Lawrence probably visited Northamptonshire on business connected with this estate. Before 24 March, 1529/304 he had married a Northampton widow, Elizabeth Gough, whose previous husband, William, had been a prosperous mercer5 and Bailiff of the borough.

From his wife, Lawrence got a town house in Northampton, with her former husband's interests there, but also the revenue from the rectories of Higham Ferrers, Chelveston, and Caldecote which the Washingtons were still using as an occasional residence as late as 1548-9. Probably Lawrence took over the deceased Mr. Gough's business as well: at all events, it is clear that he quitted Lord Parr's household in consequence of this marriage, and was immediately afterwards chosen a member of the Northampton Borough Corporation. He became Mayor of Northampton for the first time in 1532, and was Mayor again in 1545, besides acting at various times as Alderman and Justice of the Peace. In June, 1541 he was nominated an original Trustee of Northampton Grammar School under the will of its founder, the eminent Thomas Chipsey.

His name occurs in 1564 on a royal commission to assess for taxation purposes St. Giles's church, Northampton (his own town house lay in St. Giles's parish). All of which implies that he remained an active presence in Northampton after he had built Sulgrave Manor.

Elizabeth died childless and Lawrence married another wealthy widow shortly before 4 February, 1537/8, Amy Tomson, daughter of Robert Pargiter of Greatworth and widow of Master John Tomson of Sulgrave. A document of 1543 in the Bodleian Library shows that she had leases of the manors and rectories of Sulgrave and Stuchbury, Northants., as well as associated lands, all of which Lawrence was recorded as holding jure uxoris (by right of his wife) in March, 1538, according to the Survey of the estates of the Cluniac priory of St. Andrew's at Northampton.

The assembled evidence (from the above Survey, etc.) proves that these possessions comprised:
(a) two messuages6 , etc. in Sulgrave;
(b) the farm7 of Sulgrave rectory;
(c) closes8 , etc., in Stuchbury known as "Townfield" (comprising a "mansion-house", etc.), "Westfield", "Millfield", the "Middle Close", the "Lord's close", "Oxhey", and "Sulgrave Field";
(d) the farm of Stuchbury rectory;
(e) the "Mill Close" in the parish of Cotton; and
(f) "Broadyates Close" in the parish of Hardingston.

Probably Lawrence also became tenant at this period of the lands in the parish of Woodford owned by the Austin priory of Canons Ashby and the Benedictine nunnery of Catesby.

The main holdings, those in the adjacent parishes of Sulgrave and Stuchbury, had been leased from the Priory of St. Andrew's in Northampton. They were taken over by the Crown on 1 March, 1537/8 when the monasteries were dissolved as part of the move away from the Roman Catholic Church. Lawrence then became one of the many rich men who benefited from the Crown’s need to sell the ex-monastery lands to raise money. He bought Sulgrave and Stuchbury from the Crown on 10 March, 1538/9 and 26 February, 1542/3 respectively for the sum of £324 14s. 10d., as a result holding lands which he had already possessed as tenant before the priory's dissolution now in fee simple9.

The ownership of land, specifically of a manor, was the vital attribute for a gentleman in Tudor England so, in a few short years, Lawrence had progressed from being a servant (although a senior administrative one) to being a rich merchant to establishing himself as part of the gentry of Northamptonshire. The rise of this group of families which straddled the land-owning society and the merchant society is seen by many historians as one of the developments which powered England in Elizabethan times into becoming a world power.

Tomb of Sir Robert Tyrwhitt and his wife at Bigby, Leics.
Tomb of Sir Robert Tyrwhitt and his
wife at Bigby, Leics.
Little is known about the details of Lawrence’s life; there is no sign of him taking an active political role though he knew people who did. The increasing importance of the Parr family with Catherine Parr becoming Henry VIII’s final wife in 1543 and their continuing links to the county through their residence at Horton would have offered Lawrence opportunities if he chose to take them. There is evidence that Lawrence was friendly with a cousin by marriage of the Parrs, Sir Robert Tyrwhitt, one of Henry VIII's Knights of the Body, who, with his wife, was sent in 1549 to Hatfield House to investigate the rumours surrounding the Princess Elizabeth and Sir Thomas Seymour. The marriage of Lawrence’s cousin, Katherine Kytson in 1545 to Sir John Spencer of Althorp linked the Washingtons to probably the greatest family in the county.

He would certainly have been busy at home. We know he formed a "wool-stapling"10 , the great trade of the sixteenth century gentleman, partnership with his father-in-law, Robert Pargiter of Greatworth, and his second wife's brother-in-law, William Mole, for exploiting the fertile pasture-lands of Stuchbury for cattle and sheep. His flock is recorded as 1,000 in 1547 growing to 1,500 in 1564 at a time when many others in the region were declining or even disappearing11. His brother, Thomas’ position as Governor of the Merchant Adventurers in Antwerp would have given him useful overseas contacts. He was also heavily involved with various sets of gentry in land transactions throughout the period

“By me, Lawrence Wasshyngton”, Lawrence’s signature on one of the documents in the Manor’s collection.
“By me, Lawrence Wasshyngton”, Lawrence’s signature on one of the documents in the Manor’s collection.

As far as Lawrence's private life is concerned, the evidence is naturally slight. He seems to have been on good terms with his opulent relatives, the Kytsons, as was of course his younger brother, Thomas; and a letter of the latter's to Sir Thomas Kytson's widow, Margaret, Countess of Bath, dated from Antwerp 14 July, 1555, specifies "another tonnykin [of sturgeon] smaller than yours, under your mark and note with yours in the skipper's book, which is for my brother, Lawry", at Sulgrave12.

Lawrence and his second wife, Amy, had four sons and seven daughters before Amy’s death on 6 October, 1564. Internal evidence suggests that the Manor House was extended during this period, possibly not only to create more room but also to signal the family’s increasing prosperity.

Lawrence survived Amy for almost twenty years. He died on 19 February, 1584 and was buried in Sulgrave church in front of the Washington family pew, where he and his wife and eleven children are commemorated. His will has survived as has the Crown’s investigation of his estate at his death.

LAWRENCE WASHINGTON of Souldgrave in the Co. of Northampton, gentleman, 18 October 1581, proved 11 February 1584

‘As concerning my body, which, as it was made of earth, so must it return to dust and earth again, I desire therefore and require mine exequitor to case the same to be inhumate and buried in the parish church of Souldgrave aforesaid, in the South Aisle there before my seat where I usually use to sit, according to his discretion. To Mr. Walter Light a whole sovereign of gold and to his now wife a ducate of gold. Towards the amending of Stanbridge Lane twenty shillings. And I will that Roger Litleford shall have the oversight in amending the said lane and bestowing the said twenty shillings. And for his pains in that behalf to be sustained I will him two shillings.

'And I will to every one of my sons' and daughters' children five shillings apiece, and to every one of my brother Leonard Washington's children six shillings eight pence a piece willed to them by Parson Washington. Also I give to my brother Thomas Washington's children by his last wife forty shillings. Also I devise to my son Lawrence Washington one goblet parcel gilt, with the cover for the same, and four pounds of currant English money to buy him a salt.

'And I further will to him one featherbed in the gate-house, one feather bed over the day-house, one coverlet with a blue lining, one coverlet in the gate-house chamber, two boulsters, two pairs of blankets, four home made coverlets & four mattresses. Also I give to Lawrence Washington, son to Robert Washington my son and heir apparent, the ring which I usually wear. Also I forgive and acquit my brother Thomas Washington of all such debts and duties as he by any manner of means oweth unto me. And I forgive and discharge John Lagoe, sometime my servant, of all such sums of money as he oweth unto me and of all rents and arrearages of rents due unto me for such lands, tenements or hereditaments as he holdeth of mine, by lease or otherwise, for term of my natural life. And I will to every one of my servants which shall be in service with me at the time of my decease twelve pence.

'Also I will that the said Robert Washington shall yearly give to my servant Symon Wood a livery coat and forty shillings of currant English money for his wages yearly during his life. And whereas I stand charged by the last will and testament of William Bond, gentleman, for the amending and repairing of Preston Lane and for the repairing of the way between Dalington and the Westbridge at Northampton called Spangstone, I earnestly require my executor and overseers to call upon the said John Balgoye for the amending of the said places, for that I have, long time heretofore, delivered into the hands of the said John Balgaye the sum of ten pounds of currant English money for the repairing of Preston Lane and twenty shillings for the amending of Spangstone, for that only use and purpose.

'Also I will and devise that widow Compton shall have, hold, possess and enjoy for term of her life so much of one cottage as she now possesseth in Sulgrave, so as she well and honestly behave herself during her life, without making or doing any reparations thereupon and without paying any rent therefor, other than one red rose at the feast of Saint John Baptist yearly, if the same be demanded. And my further meaning and intent is that the said Robert and his heirs shall from time to time forever appoint some honest aged or impotent person to inhabit the same cottage for term of life, and that such aged or impotent person shall not pay to my heirs any manner of rent therefor for term of his life other than a red rose payable as aforesaid, nor shall be charged to repair the same cottage during his or their lives. And my mind, intent, and meaning is that if any doubt, ambiguity or controversy shall appear to arise or grow in respect of these presents then I will the same shall be decided and determined by my overseers or any one of them.

'And of this my last will and testament I constitute, ordain and appoint the said Robert Washington my sole executor, and of the same I make and ordain my well beloved and trusty friends the said William Baldwyn and William Pargiter my overseers, desiring them to call on my executor if any default or slackness shall evidently in him appear, for or towards the performance of this my last will and testament, and for their pains I will to either of them forty shillings.

'Witnesses, William Baldwin, William Pargiter, Robert Calcott, George Woodward.'


The Inquisition post mortem taken at Rothewell, co. Northants, on 24th August 1584, states that at the time of his death Lawrence Washington was seised in fee of the Manor of Sulgrave, and of all the lands and possessions granted to him by King Henry VIII in 1538-9. He also held a great barn and stable in Stuchbury, a parcel of meadow and a close called the 'Lordes Closse,' another close called Oxhey, and a piece of land called Sulgrave field with appurtenances in the vill of Stuchbury, late in the tenure of Lawrence Washington and Christopher Tomson or their assigns, formerly belonging to the Prior of St. Andrew; also a close called Broddistes lying in the parish of Hardington, co. Northants, formerly belonging to the said Priory; also the advowson of the rectory of Stuchbury likewise formerly belonging to the said Priory and lately purchased by the deceased from Sir John Williams, knight, and Anthony Stringer, gent.; also a messuage or tenement in Woodende in the parish of Blakesley, Northants; an acre and an end of a close in Sulgrave13 , late of Thomas Stutesburie or his assigns lately purchased by the deceased from Sir Ralph Sadler, knight, and Laurence Wennington14 , gent. In addition, woods called Create Crannis and Lytell Crannis in Blakesley containing twenty-six acres purchased from Henry, Duke of Suffolk and * * * Dewport, gent.; lands, messuages, etc. in Pattishill, Ascote and Eastcote in the parish of Pattishill, Northants, lately purchased from William Molle of Falcott, Northants, gent.; and also a dovecote, orchard, and one close in the parish of St. Giles in the town of Northampton, lately purchased from John Molle, deceased.

The 'Inquisition' goes on to state that by an indenture dated 20th December 1564 made between the deceased Lawrence Washington of the one part and Walter Light of Radway, co. Warwick, gent., of the other part, in consideration of a marriage afterwards solemnised between Robert Washington, gent., then son and heir apparent of the said Lawrence, and Elizabeth Light, then daughter and sole heiress of the said Walter Light, Lawrence agreed for himself and his heirs with the said Walter, his heirs and administrators, that before the Easter following he would make a firm estate in two messuages in the parish of Pattishill, to hold the same to the use of the said Lawrence so long as the said Robert should live, after his death to the use of Elizabeth Light for life for her jointure; after her death to the use of the heirs male of Robert Washington, and in default of such issue to the use of the heirs male of Lawrence Washington, younger son of the said Lawrence; for default of such issue to the use of the right heirs of Lawrence (the father) for ever.

The jury added that the Manor of Sulgrave and other premises in Sulgrave, Woodford, and Cotton were held of the Crown by the 20th part of a knight's fee and were worth yearly £15 12s. 6d.

Sir Thomas evidently kept a fatherly eye on Lawrence's youngest brother, Thomas Washington, who was apprenticed to his uncle in 1534 and eventually rose to be Governor of the Merchant Adventurers' new bourse at Antwerp
Bailiff : a senior administrative servant on the estate, supervising the land and farms.
Greatly allied and befriended ; D. of L. 3/24; and cf. William and Mary Quarterly, October, 1937, p. 314
Until 1752, the New Year started on March 25th. So dates in Jan-March before 1753 were, in the eyes of the people who lived then, part of the year before in our terms. This means that dates in those months are correctly expressed as being 1530/31 – which means Jan-March 1530 in contemporary view and Jan-March 1531 in our terms.
Mercer – trader in cloth
Messuage – land with a dwelling house, which could be a humble cottage. So this is not a “manor”.
Farm i.e. the revenue
Close – hedged/fenced farming land , arable or pasture.
Fee simple – modern equivalent would be freehold; means essentially without remaining legal restrictions or duties to superior lords.
Wool-stapling – buying and selling raw wool, also often silk and linen
Sheep and Enclosure in 16th century Northamptonshire, John Martin, Ag Hist Rev, 36, I, pp 39-64
Hengrave MSS
This last also had been church-land given for the upkeep of a lamp in Sulgrave Church
or Wemmington