‘HISTORIES’ AND GENEALOGIES IN EARLY-MODERN CHESHIRE

‘HISTORIES’ AND GENEALOGIES IN EARLY-MODERN CHESHIRE

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A strong historiographical tradition existed in Cheshire from the twelfth century onwards. The monk-writers of Chester Abbey, Ranulph Higden and Henry Bradshaw, penned the Polychronicon and a ‘life’ of St Werburgh respectively. At Stanlaw the Cistercian brothers produced a corpus of fourteenthcentury histories of the constables of Chester and the Lacy family.[1] These shared common material with the Genealogia Fundatorum Monasterii de Stanlawe et de Whalley secundum Cronicas and the Historia Laceiorum of Kirstall Abbey. Such texts fall within the category of monastic family histories or chronicles. They attempted to relate the history of the founder-patrons of religious communities, and place them within broader chronological and dynastic contexts. Encompassed within them were notions of collective memory in the form of written dynastic and institutional histories.[2] In terms of chronology and detail, such texts are routinely inaccurate. They tell us as much about the religious and political identity of the compilers, but can also contain information found in no other sources. These texts were published in Sir William Dugdale’s collection Monasticon Anglicanum (1655), and thus became available in print for the first time.

Early-modern historical and genealogical works

John Speed map of Cheshire 1610The works of Sampson Erdeswick (1590s), and other gentlemen antiquaries such as Ralph Starkey and John Booth, though largely genealogical in scope, were copied widely in early-modern Cheshire. In 1622 William Webb penned King’s Vale Royal, a somewhat patchy text, which according to Webb, was inspired by the London historian John Stow and the Cheshire cartographer, John Speed.[3] Though containing little scholarly method, Webb’s account has been described as ‘the fullest and best organized history thus far produced’.[4] The early-modern period witnessed a huge increase in the creation and recording of historical narratives, intended in part to re-inforce the ancestry of gentry families and urban corporations. In Cheshire the genealogical works of locally-based antiquaries were gleaned from a range of family and earlier monastic manuscript collections. These were in turn utilized by heralds such as Robert Glover and William Flower.

King Cyrus from 1480 edn of Higden's Polychronicon[5] This contains a number of family histories, either complied by himself or copied from other sources. Folio 3 has ‘The descent of Raphe Dutton, lord of Hatton esquire’, beginning with Odard and continuing for fifteen generations. Bostock states: ‘Thys descent was made and registered in the tyme of the vysetation of Cheshire in the eighth year of the Raygne of Soverent Ladye Elisabeth, by the grace of God and England, France and Ireland, Ano [15]66, by William Flower alias Norroy King of Arms and Robert Cooke alias Chester Herald of Arms Marshal to Norroy’.[6] In 1573 Bostock wrote a quasi-history of his own family by relating the military adventures of his father and grandfather, though the details and chronology are rather hazy.[7] After relating his father’s ‘descent and genealogy’ Bostock tried to establish a link with noble ancestors in the Netherlands, but this is fanciful and strewn with errors. It is likely that he was attempting to shore up his family’s lineage and establish the Bostocks among the Cheshire gentry. His diary of a journey from London to Chester,[8] undertaken in 1581, reveals that he was provided with manuscripts pertaining to medieval Cheshire, as well as genealogical material relating to local families, a significant amount of which had previously appeared in the Stanlaw/Whalley Abbey ‘Lacy histories’ and other related texts. Laurence Bostock was also responsible for creating a ‘pedigree’ for Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor, ‘derived from Hattons of Hatton, co. Chester’, which offered common ancestors going back to the Norman Conquest and earlier, which helped the Elizabethan courtier to advance his career.

Sir Peter Leycester and the Historical Antiquities

Leycester Historical Antiquities Touching CheshireThe Cheshire scholar Sir Peter Leycester (1614-78), and his contemporaries Christopher Towneley (1604-74) and Roger Dodsworth (1585-1654) transcribed documents from a range of sources, many of them now lost originals. Leycester’s major historical work, Historical Antiquities (1673) was drawn from his copious manuscripts.[9] Although appealing, his transcriptions of medieval charters and geneaologies are often abridged, the latter being borrowed from the works of the Tudor creators Bostock and Glover, and contain the same flaws. Even so, Leycester was methodologically superior to many of his contemporaries and was meticulous about the origins of his material. He was at the heart of historical scholarship in seventeenth-century Cheshire, and worked with the likes of Dugdale. Similarly, the manuscript books of Towneley (Chetham’s Library, Manchester) are equally scrupulous. He was associated with (among others) Dodsworth and Dugdale, whilst in partnership with Richard Kuerden he planned, but never finished, a history of Lancashire.

Despite Leycester’s achievements, the undertaking of a full county history was made more difficult by the increasing body of manuscript material in both original and copied form. The backbreaking task of compiling such a work was hampered particularly by the growing manuscript collections of Randle Holme III (1627-1700) and his industrious grandson Randle IV.[10] Though unpublished, their material is of great value in terms of the post-medieval religious and social history of Cheshire.

Dr Andrew Abram  

Dr Abram is an independent scholar.  He can be contacted via the Communities of Print website.

[1] British Library, Cotton Cleopatra C. 3, fols. 328-37.

[2] Chris Given-Wilson, Chronicles: The Writing of History in Medieval England (Hambledon and London: London, 2004), p. 84.

[3] Published in by Daniel King in 1656 as The History of Cheshire: Containing King’s Vale-royal Entire.

[4] A Guide to English County Histories, ed. C. R. J. Currie and C. P. Lewis (1997), p. 74.

[5] BL, MS Harley 139.

[6] Robert Glover and William Flower, The Visitation of Cheshire in the year 1580 (London: Harleian Soc., 1882), p. 110. See also, Pedigrees Made at the Visitation of Cheshire, 1613, ed. G. J. Armytage & J. P. Rylands, Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (1909), p. 92.

[7] BL, MS Harley 2055, fol. 227; ibid, 2075.

[8] Ibid, 139, fols. 81, 115.

[9] Cheshire Archives, DLT/B2-3.

[10] BL, MS Harley 1920-2177, 5955, 7568-9.

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