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Washingtons » Reverend Lawrence Washington, 1602 - 1652/3

Lawrence was born in 1602, probably at Sulgrave, to Lawrence and Margaret, nee Butler and was thus the great grandson of Lawrence the builder.

As the fifth son of a well-to-do but not excessively rich family, a career would be a necessity. He was 17, the median age of all entrants, when he went to Brasenose College, Oxford, in 16191 where he graduated B.A. in 1623. He was elected a Fellow of the college within days, which was the first step on the hierarchical ladder towards higher office in the Church. A fellow would typically spend ten to fifteen years teaching at his college during which time he would take holy orders. Under the statutes of the college, a fellow could not have an income of more than a few pounds a year. He received his M.A. in 1626 and in the following year was appointed Lector, the chief disciplinarian of the undergraduates in college; he held this office until he resigned his fellowship.

He became a Proctor on 26 August 1631, chosen by the Brasenose electors to replace his colleague, forced by Laud to resign. Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, the king's point man for the suppression of Puritanism, was also chancellor of Oxford. On August 22, 1631, with King Charles I personally presiding, Laud denounced the principal officers of Oxford as heretics. Four days later, Reverend Lawrence Washington, who was more acceptable to Laud, was appointed to replace his roommate as Proctor.

During his tenure as proctor Washington met every Monday with the vice-chancellor, the heads of the colleges and halls, and the other proctor as members of the newly created Hebdomadal Council introduced as part of the effort to exercise more control over the university. As Laud's agent on the Brasenose faculty, Reverend Washington was part of a thorough purge of Oxford's Puritan clergy.

He held this prestigious position for a relatively short time, obtaining a B.D. degree in 1632 and leaving Oxford. The circumstances and reasons for this are unclear. One biographer of his descendant, George, holds that the struggles of being Archbishop Laud’s representative in disciplining Oxford after 1631 proved too much and he decided to marry to seek a different future . Another school of thought points to his marriage in December 1633 and his son John’s birth in 1633/34 as having left him no choice but to resign. While few gentry families countenanced births out of wedlock in this period, some evidence suggests that as many as 1 in 4 births resulted from pre-nuptial intercourse2 .

For whatever reason the shift from life at the university to life in the church was a natural one. Lawrence was appointed as rector of the rich parish of Purleigh in south east Essex five miles south of Maldon. He was inducted there on 17th March 1632/3. He left in debt to the College, owing 17s 10d personally and £9 5s 9d on behalf of a pupil; at that period Fellows were personally responsible for their pupils' finances.

A later Bursar hoped to reclaim the debt and noted optimistically ‘Mr Washington to be sued’, but no action was taken. In 1924 a party of Canadian and American lawyers were shown the account of these debts during a visit to the College, and they suggested that they should pay the personal debt of 17s 10d, subject to no interest being charged. A pound note was produced amidst much laughter. Unfortunately this light hearted gesture was not appreciated by some of George Washington's more seriously minded supporters. A letter to the Daily Express and an article in the New York Herald both denied that any debt had ever existed.

During his time at Oxford, he had had to remain unmarried as a condition of the offices he held. This was no longer true as a parish priest and Lawrence was married, aged about 33 in December, 1633 to Amphilis Twigden born in Spratton, Northants, of a similar age. The exact date of their first son, John’s birth is not known but it is always stated as 1633/34 which makes it close on the marriage.

John is unlikely to have been born at Sulgrave; Lawrence, and probably Amphilis, were in Purleigh in 1633 and the birth is more likely to have been either there or at Amphilis’ family home at Tring – where there is reputed to have been a house on Frogmore Street in which the Rev. Lawrence and his family resided from 1630 to 1650. Lawrence was certainly at Wheathampstead nr Tring on 29th January, 1649/50 acting as a substitute for the regular surrogate for one session only in the interest of his children when the will of his wife’s stepfather, Andrew Knowlinge of Tring was proved. (Hoppin I p 126).

All Saints, Purleigh: the church was built in the 14th century but had a major restoration paid for by Americans in memory of Lawrence in 1892.

Rev Lawrence and Amphilis had two other sons, Lawrence (baptised 23 June 1635 at Tring and William (baptised at Tring 14th October, 1641,) and three daughters, Elizabeth (baptised at Tring 17th August, 1636), Margaret and Martha. Their second son Lawrence also emigrated to America with his elder brother John and one daughter, Martha later followed them when John left her money in his will so to do.

The fact that Lawrence was appointed to a parish in Essex after Oxford is interesting. Essex was one of the earliest strongholds of those who wanted to reform the church and sent radical MPs to Parliament. It may be that Lawrence’s ‘point man’ role for Laud in Oxford was in some way being replayed and that he was sent into a county which Laud would have regarded as a hotbed of dissent to try to redress the balance. Whether or not this is true, his Anglican views would not have made him the most popular of local priests from the very beginning of his time there in March 1633 but for the first ten years there we know nothing about his life. This was the decade in which the two sides in the English Civil Wars were forming up and although fighting before July 1642 was confined to Scotland and Ireland, it was clear that more was to come.

The King raised his standard on 22 August 1642 and the first Civil War began. Because of the long build up, the country (at least most people interested in religion and/or politics) was already divided into territories where the Royalists were predominant and those where the Parliamentarians were in control.

The little grey blob on the map represents Purleigh church deep in Parliamentarian territory.

The Parliamentarians wanted to change the world not just defeat the king and one of their first steps at a time when the church was the centre of most village life was to ensure that the vicars were supportive.

The Long Parliament’s reformation of the clergy of the Anglican church got underway in 1643 and by the restoration nearly 2,800 of them had been identified and punished for their allegiance to the old church and/or the king. The campaign was particularly strong in Essex. Lawrence was the ninth named in a November 1643 account of the first hundred “scandalous, malignant priests” whose benefices were sequestered b y order of Parliament. The charges brought against the clergy fell into three broad areas: personal morality, religious practices and political and Rev. Lawrence was accused as a "Malignant Royalist" and was ejected from his living. The accusation was that he was “a common frequenter of alehouses, not onely himselfe sitting dayly tipling there, but also encouraging others in that beastly vice and hath been oft drunk, and hath said, That the Parliament have more Papists belonging to them in their Armies, than the King had about him, or in his Army, and that the Parliament’s Army did more Hurt than the Cavaliers and that They did none at all; and hath published tjem to be Traitours, that lend to or assist the Parliament.” Historians who have studied the ejections have noticed many of the characteristics of ‘show trials’ in the hearings: charges were made by parishioners but often in exactly the same wording; there is often evidence of personal animosity; previously acceptable behaviour was suddenly sinful. No one doubts that Lawrence might have liked a drink – most people did at the time – but the chances are that he was not a drunkard as some authorities still proclaim.

Lawrence was forced to move from Purleigh to the nearby (five miles north of Maldon) lesser parish of Little Braxted, Essex, probably through the patronage of Thomas Roberts, who was Lord of the Manor at Little Braxted until his death in 1680. Among the Walker manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (C.3 fol. 149) is a letter written by Henry Ayloffe, of Braxted Magna, Essex written about 1700 which says that, as a guest of Mr Roberts:

“I doe not remember that ever I kne or heard of Mr Washington after he had been sequestered, but there was then one Mr Roberts, a neighbour of mine ho was owner and patron of a parish so small that nobody would accept of his church (but with difficulty) and Mr Roberts entertained Mr Washington, where he was suffered quietly to preach. I have heard him and tooke him to be a very worthy pious man. I have been in his company there and he appeared a very modest sober person, and I heard him recommended as such by several gentlemen who knew him before I did. He was a loyal person and had one of the best benefices in these parts and this was the onely cause of his expulsion as I verily believe.”

Amphilis is believed not to have gone to Little Braxted but to have returned to her stepfather’s home with her children. Her mother (who died in April 1637) had remarried to Andrew Knowling, a landowner in Tring. When he died in January, 1648/9, he left money to his wife's children and grandchildren, the family of Amphyllis Washington: John, William, Elizabeth, Mary and Martha, bequeathing the residue, including property, to his godson Lawrence, who was then only 13 years old. Administration was granted to John Dagnall of Grove, Tring parish, as none of the children was of age Probably both John and Lawrence attended school in Tring.

Amphyllis pursued the rights of her husband and children and in September, 1649. succeeded in obtaining from the Cromwellian Standing Committee for Essex a small income from the living of Purleigh to help her family.

“Judgments and Orders of the Standing Committee of Essex, AN 1649. Wednesday 15 August 1649 Lawrence Washington. Ordered that Mr John Rogers, minister of the sequestered rectory of Purleigh in (Dengey) hundred do pay the fifth part of the tithes and profits of the said Rectory unto Mrs Washington according to a (____) order of the Committee of plundered ministers and an agreement made between them thereupon or otherwise attend the Committee on Friday the 17th inst. to show cause for his refusal.
Thursday 20th September, 1649
Mr John Rogers and Mrs Washington
Ordered that they be both heard on Wednesday in the Sessions week before the Committee”
Later note “fifth part of Purleigh ordered to the plundered Rector’s wife”

Amphyllis was well educated, as is shown by a letter of hers still preserved in the Verney archives at Claydon House, Bucks. The letter was evidently written to her brother-in-law, William Roades, gent, of Middle Claydon (the husband of her sister, Hannah Twigden, and the faithful "Will Roades" who was steward to Sir Ralph Verney):

"Good Brother, my kind love remembered to you and my Sister [Mrs. Hannah Twigden Roades] and to all my cosens. These are to Sertify you that my nephew Dagnall hath not Bought Ripington's house, and all the reason that I cane heare by him is thai he will have noe hand in the puting out of his cosen Wostar which he tels me hath a leas perrell for fore yeares, so he hath lett Mr. Smith bye it. But I understand by him since that Mr. Smith is content to part with it againe upon the sam terms as he Bought it, but my Nephew will not bye it because he will have noe hand in the turning out of his Cosen Wostar, But goodman Wostar hath sent me word that if you will bye it he will provid to goe out as soun as ever he can. I would entreat you to take som pains in it for us by reason we have noe constant being, besids there is land that I would not have lost. I pray, Brother, take some care for us, and we are all bound to pray for you and all yours. Pray, Brother, if you ore my sister can help my daughter Bettye [Elizabeth Washington, baptized at Tring, Herts. 17 August, 1636] to a place I shall be very much behoulding to you. Pray, if you have sent word to that gentlewoman that you spock of, I would entreat you to send me word. I would entreat you to writ to me by your Caryer next Tusday that corns throw the grove [in Tring parish]. I pray, Brother, if you please to come to us lett me know, because I will send you word when Mr. Smith be att home. Lawrence and Bettye and Matt [Martha Washington, who married George Talbot, gent, in 1663] presents there services to you and my sister, and there Love to all there cosens. So, hoping to hear from you very quickly, I remain Yr. truly Loving Sister to command to her power till death, [signed] Anph: Washington. Tring, this 28th Janeuary".

Hoppin (I, p127) says the letter refers to Amphylis finding a house for herself in Tring so that she could remain there. Amphilis herself was buried in Tring 19 January 1654/5.

Rev Lawrence (who died without an estate sufficient to need letters of administration) was buried in the cemetery of All Saints in nearby Maldon, 21st January 1652/53. The church now has the Washington Window, a gift from the people of Malden, Massachusetts made in 1928. Malden itself was founded by a Joseph Hills of Maldon. The Window combines English and American themes and is well worth looking at.

All Saints Church, High Street, Maldon, Essex, England

The English Cleric and the Virginia Adventurer: The Washingtons, Father and Son” by Martin H Quitt in ‘George Washington Reconsidered’ ed Don Higginbotham, University Press of Virginia, 2001. Quitt specialist on Virginia’s colonial period, Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Lawrence Stone, “The Size and Composition of the Oxford Student Body, 1580- 1910”in The University in Society, ed Lawrence Stone, 2 vols, Princeton, 1974
David Levine and Keith Wrightson, “The Social Context of Illegitimacy in Early Modern England” in Bastardy and its Comparative History ed. P Laslett, K Oosterveeen and Richard M Smith