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Washingtons » Robert Washington (c1544 - 1619)

Key points:

Eldest son of the builder, Lawrence
Portrait believed to be of Robert
Portrait believed to be of
Robert, previously in collection
of John Sutton, Berks
Married at 21 to Elizabeth Light with a profitable dowry of lands in Warwickshire
Had six sons and three daughters before Elizabeth died sometime before 1599
When Lawrence died in 1584, inherited an estate of about 1,250 acres in Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire
Continued as a farmer and wool merchant
Served with Sir John Spencer as a Royal Commissioner and is described as ‘Esquire’
Second marriage to Anne Fisher of Hanslop, Bucks, believed by some to be his housekeeper
Had a second family, three sons and three daughters
Reordered his estate to settle his adult sons
Died in 1619

Marital shield celebrating the Washington-Lyte marriage.
Marital shield celebrating
the Washington-Lyte marriage.

ROBERT WASHINGTON, who inherited Sulgrave Manor in 1584, was born in 1544, the eldest son of Lawrence Washington and his wife, Amy Partiger, daughter of Robert Partiger of Greatworth, close to Sulgrave Village. He had ten brothers and sisters, Lawrence, Elizabeth, Anne, Frances, Magdalyn, Barbara, Mary, Margaret, Henry and Christopher.

Nothing is known about Robert’s early years. There is a significant absence of records about him at the universities and Inns of Court where other brothers studied. This is not in itself unusual – the eldest son did not need to be trained for a career, he was going to inherit most of the family’s estate and learnt what he needed to know by working with his father.

Robert emerges into the light shed by historical documents with his marriage at the age of 21 to Elizabeth Lyte, the heiress of Radway Grange, Warwickshire. Radley, like Sulgrave, had been part of a monastic estate and Walter, Elizabeth’s father, had bought it in 1554. The complex marriage settlement has survived and forms part of the Sulgrave Manor collection of manuscripts. Following the marriage of Robert and Elizabeth’s third son, Walter Washington to Alice Murden, the newly-weds moved in with Walter’s grandfather at Radway and detailed arrangements about their rooms and sustenance were agreed. (Click for Walter and Alice’s moving arrangements ) On Walter’s death in 1597 Radway passed to his son, John who, it is believed, lived there until 1654 – meaning that he must have had hard days around the Battle of Edgehill in October 1642; Charles I raised his standard at nearby Radway Tower and rode past the Grange on his way to the battle-field, a couple of miles away. Radway Grange was rebuilt in the 18th century and became the home of Earl Haig in the 20th century.

Robert’s seal on a 1599 document.
Robert’s seal on a 1599 document.
40 years old when he came into his inheritance, Robert lived at Sulgrave for a further 35 years following in his father’s footsteps as a farmer and wool-trader. He had clearly established himself as a trustworthy individual – evidenced by the number of times he is included in local wills as an executor or administrator. He was also, together with Sir John Spencer of Althorp, appointed a royal commissioner in Northants in 1598. Additionally, Robert is usually called “esquire” in contemporary documents, a higher rank that that accorded to his father (gentleman).

The energy with which Robert continued to develop his business is shown by his treatment of the adjoining parish of Stuchbury where he ran his flocks in partnership, as his father had been before him, with his two cousins, Robert Pargiter and George Mole. The three partners were taken to court in 1606 and accused of not providing a priest for the parish and of pulling down "not only the parsonage house . . . and all or the most part of the said town and parish houses of Stuttesbury aforesaid, but also the parish church itself," and using the lands "for pasture for kine and sheep, to the great depopulation of the commonwealth and country thereabout."1 In the Hearth Tax of 1674 only four houses were recorded in Stuchbury and only four remain today2. Robert was one of many landowners at the time turning people off the land and converting it to pasture for sheep. This was not a new phenomenon, not far away at Fawsley, the same thing had happened:

“By the end of the fifteenth century …. reluctant tenants were being evicted by the Knightleys. The church and 'the great house stand alone in the parkland, and the marks of former ploughlands dip down to the edge of the lakes that flood the little valleys: it is not certain whether the site of the village lies under the waters or under the Hall and gardens. In the mid-sixteenth century 2,500 sheep grazed the site, and the profits of grazing contributed to the large sums to which the two Knightleys living at Fawsley were assessed in the lay taxation of 1524.”
Signatures of Robert and his sons, Lawrence and Robert as witnesses on a 1606 deed in the Manor’s collection.

With his first wife, Elizabeth, Robert had six sons and three daughters:

Lawrence, born in 1565, who married Margaret Butler in 1588
Robert who married Elizabeth Chishull in 1596 and spent his life at Great Brington
Walter who married Alice Murden of Ratley in 1593 and lived at Radway
Christopher who married Margaret Palmer of Radway
William and Thomas about whom nothing is known other than that they were alive at the time of Robert’s will in 1619
Amye who married Alban Wakelyn
Ursula who married Thomas Adcock of Swinford, Leics and
Elizabeth who married Lewis Richardson of Turvey, Beds

The marriages are recorded because their significance is not just personal to the couples involved but mark the setting up of a new household which, as we have seen in the case of Walter and Alice, involves providing for the livelihood, in one way or another of the new family unit. This for the gentry of the 16th century, especially ones like Robert with a large number of children, was their primary duty – to ensure the continuation of their line and a comfortable living for them.

Robert features in the opening chapters of many an early biography of his illustrious descendant and often he is dismissed as the man who wasted his father’s estate and sometimes as he who brought the family to poverty. More recent authorities recognise the impact of his settlement of his first family and look to his re-marriage and setting up of his second family as the causes of the final changes in the estate. The facts are that Robert settled the manor of Sulgrave and manor and rectory of Stuchbury on his eldest son, Lawrence, in May 1601. Lawrence sold the Sulgrave manor demesne lands to Thomas Atkins, of Over Winchcombe, Buckinghamshire, on 20 August, 1605, retaining only the house and seven acres of land. With the consent of his father. Lawrence sold the reversion of remainder3 on 1 March, 1610 to his cousin Lawrence Makepeace, son of Robert's sister Mary and Abel Makepeace. This effectively relieved Robert’s son, Lawrence of future responsibility for Sulgrave manor, got him some ready money and left Robert in possession of the house until his death. Lawrence and his family set themselves up in the manor of Wicken in Buckinghamshire, leaving Robert and his second family to reside in the Sulgrave house. It is easier to see this as yet another move to get all his first adult family settled before embarking on the creation of a second than as an act of profligacy.

Robert took care of his younger sons in his will, in the process strengthening his second wife’s hand in dealing with the young men:

“I give unto my three sons which I had by my second wife, namely to my son Albane Washington, to my son Guy Washington and to my son Robert Washington the sum of one hundred pound a piece of current English money to be paid unto them and to each of them at their age of four and twenty….Always provided …. they be obedient and will be ruled in the mean space by their mother my executorix And do carry themselves well and dutiful children to her but if they or any of them be undutiful unto her and will not be ruled by her as it becometh them to be then I will by this my last will and testament that they or so many of them as shall be undutiful or that will not be ruled by her shall have but ten pounds a piece at their ages of four and twenty years apiece.”

His three younger daughters, Mary, Margaret and Catherine, are not mentioned in his will but we know the first was married to Martin Edon of Banbury and the second to John Gardiner of London.

Robert asks to be buried under the same stone as his father in Sulgrave Church and presumably was in 1619.

William Barcocke, clerk, versus Robert Washington and two others: Bills and Answers, Northants., Easter, 4 James I.
For more information about Stuchbury see and for the history of the family
“reversion of remainder” means the right to take the land and house on the death of the present holder, effectively putting Lawrence Makepeace in the position of heir as far as the house and seven acres were concerned.