The title of George Eliot’s novel – slightly adapted in my heading – seems singularly appropriate to the life of my 9th great grandmother, Anne Wane, who is the subject of this final post in my series about remarkable women from my family history. Her life story is noteworthy, not because of anything she actively achieved, but because of its peculiar circumstances – to modern sensibilities, at any rate. To put it in a nutshell: Anne spent all fifty years of her life at the rectory of Clayton-cum-Keymer in Sussex, first as the daughter of one rector, and then as the wife of no fewer than three of his successors.
Anne Wane’s life coincided with a period of dramatic change in English history. Born in 1611 in the eighth year of the reign of James I, the year in which the Authorised Version of the Bible was published and Shakespeare’s The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale were first performed, she was a young woman when Charles I was king, brought up her children during the tumult of the Civil War, and died a year after the Restoration of the monarchy.
Birth and background
Anne was the daughter of William Wane, who was already rector of Clayton when she was born, and his wife Joan. William Wane was born at Westerham, Kent in 1561, in the third year of the reign of Elizabeth I. He was ordained deacon on 28th May 1598 and priest on 24th June in the same year. Having served briefly as the curate of Wivelsfield, Sussex, he was appointed rector of Clayton-cum-Keymer on 1st January 1601 or 1602 (depending on whether you’re using the old Julian or or modern Gregorian calendar). Clayton is a small village in west Sussex, about 10 miles to the west of Lewes and 7 miles north of Brighton. Its ancient parish church is famous for its colourful murals, uncovered during repair work in Victorian times, and probably painted in the Middle Ages by monks from Lewes Priory.
Anne Wane was christened at Clayton, presumably by her father, on 2nd March 1611. I haven’t found evidence of any other children born to William and Joan Wane. According to one source, in 1606/7, William ‘was in trouble with the Court on account of his relations with a woman named Ellenor Poulter’, though the exact nature of those ‘relations’ and its impact on his family and his position remains unknown. He died in 1626, in the second year of the reign of Charles I, and was buried at Clayton on 22nd September. I don’t know when Anne’s mother Joan died, but I have reason to believe that she predeceased her husband.
Just six days after William Wane’s funeral, a new rector arrived in Clayton. He was John Bantnor, who had been born in Westmeston, Sussex, in 1595/6, the son of the local rector. John Bantnor had been ordained deacon in 1618 and priest on 18th December 1625. On 9th July 1628, a little under two years after his arrival in Clayton, John Bantor married Anne Wane. He was about thirty years old at the time, though she would have been only 17. It’s possible that John Bantnor found the orphaned Anne living in the rectory when he arrived, and took responsibility for her, marrying her when she reached an appropriate age.
I’ve found christening records for two children born to John and Anne Bantnor. A daughter named Anne was baptised at Clayton on 17th May 1631, while a son named Thomas was christened there in 1635. John Batnor died in 1638 when he was about 42 years old. Anne would have been about 27 at the time.
The next incumbent of Clayton was William Chowne, who was instituted as rector on 17th July 1638. He was the eldest surviving son of Thomas Chowne Esquire of Alfreston and his wife Rachel Campion, and grandson of Sir George Chowne, who had been Member of Parliament for Rochester in 1593. Rachel was the daughter of William Campion of Camberwell and sister of Sir William Campion, the Royalist leader who was killed during the Siege of Colchester in 1648. Some sources suggest that William Chowne was the person of that name who went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1625 and was later a fellow of St John’s College.
Four months to the day after his arrival in Clayton, on 17th October 1638, William married the widowed Anne Bantnor née Wane. Perhaps, like his predecessor, he found Anne living in Clayton rectory on his arrival there, possibly with two young children (we know that her son Thomas, at least, survived to adulthood), and felt moved to take them under his wing.
I’ve found a baptismal record for a William Chowne, born to William and Anne and christened at Clayton on 5th October 1639. Sources tell us that this child died in infancy, though he was still alive when his father William made his will in May 1640, since a number of properties were bequeathed to him and his mother Anne. William Chowne senior was buried at Clayton on 10th June 1640, leaving Anne a widow for the second time.
Six weeks later, a new rector arrived in Clayton, fresh from his curacy in Wadhurst, east Sussex, which was close to his family home in Burwash. This was Magnus Byne, my 9th great grandfather, and destined to become Anne’s third husband. Magnus, who had graduated from Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1634, was inducted to the rectory of Clayton-cum-Keymer on 24th July 1640, two years before the outbreak of civil war in England. He was 25 years old, four years younger than Anne.
Magnus and Anne Byne had five children together over the next decade or so, coinciding with the period of the Civil War. Despite the Royalist connections of Anne’s previous husband, there seems little doubt that the Byne family, like most of Sussex, were supporters of the Parliamentary faction (though, of course, many families had divided loyalties during the war). Magnus Byne’s brother Edward, also an Anglican minister, was a notorious Puritan rabblerouser when he was at Cambridge in the 1640s, and after Anne’s death, Magnus would marry the daughter of another prominent Puritan (see below).
Magnus and Anne Byne’s daughter Mary was baptised at Clayton on 29th July 1641 but died in infancy and was buried there on 26th August 1643; their daughter Ann was baptised there on 18th January 1643 but died at the age of twenty in 1662/3; their son Stephen was born in 1649; Edward was next, though the exact date of his birth is unknown; and John (my 8th great grandfather) was baptised on 11th March 1651/2.
In 1656 Magnus Byne published a book entitled The Scornfull Quakers answered and their railing Reply refuted by the meanest of the Lord’s servants Magnus Byne, which was printed in London by William Bentley for Andrew Crook at the sign of the Green Dragon in St Paul’s Churchyard. The book, which was prompted by Magnus’ encounter with two Quaker evangelists in his parish, is written in question and answer form and contains a good deal of personal invective. It provoked a reply by one of the evangelists, Thomas Dawson, which was also published in 1656, the shorter version of whose title is The Lip of Truth opened against a Dawber with untempered Morter, A few words against a book written by Magnus Byne, Priest in the county of Sussex… The founder of the Quakers, George Fox, also responded to Magnus’ book in his 1659 publication, The Great Mistery of the Great Whore unfolded and Antichrist’s kingdom revealed unto destruction. (Seventeenth-century polemicists had a thing about long book titles.)
Anne Byne died when she was fifty years old and was buried at Clayton on 11th March 1661/2, a little less than a year after the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. There may have been an epidemic or an outbreak of plague in the area at the time, since Thomas Bantnor, Anne’s son from her first marriage, was buried at Clayton three days later; he was 26 years old.
When their mother died, Stephen Byne was fifteen years old and had probably already begun his apprenticeship as an upholsterer in London; Edward was about thirteen years old; and John eleven. Six months after Anne’s death, their father Magnus would get married for a second time, to Sarah Bartlett, daughter of the radical stationer and bookseller John Bartlett, who had been imprisoned under Charles I for printing ‘schismatical’ books, but was later commissioned to publish the text of Parliament’s ‘Grand Remonstrance’ against the King. Magnus’ son John would also work as a stationer at Tower Hill, and my theory is that he was apprenticed either to his stepfather or to the latter’s son, who was also a bookseller. (John later married Alice Forrest, daughter of a Tower Hill haberdasher, and it was their daughter Mary Byne who married goldsmith Joseph Greene: see my last post).
What are we to make of the strange circumstances of Anne Wane’s life? The fact that she was married to three successive rectors of Clayton seems to be evidence that, before the modern era, women were regarded as a superior kind of property. When John Bantnor, William Chowne and Magnus Byne each in turn became rector of Clayton, it appears that Anne ‘came with the territory’, and marrying her was almost a condition of their appointment.
Nor was this a unique case. Adrian Tinniswood’s book about the Verneys, a prominent seventeenth-century family, includes the story of the newly-appointed rector of a Buckinghamshire parish, who was unable to take possession of the rectory because the former incumbent’s widow refused to move out. After protracted but unsuccessful negotiations, he solved the problem by marrying her. Did something similar happen in the case of my ancestor Anne Wane? And does that mean that none of her marriages, including her last marriage to my 9th great grandfather Magnus Byne, were for ‘love’? Or does Anne’s story emphasise the futility of trying to impose modern notions on people living in very different times?
It’s frustrating that we don’t have access to my 9th great grandmother’s side of the story. Did she insist on remaining in the rectory when her father, and then her first two husbands died, like the woman from Buckinghamshire mentioned above? Perhaps the marriages were actually her idea, a way of securing a home for herself and her children, rather than something that was imposed on her? There’s no way we can ever know.
As I was writing this post, I was listening to a discussion on Radio 4 about the lack of films about women’s lives. One of the contributors argued that this is because, apart from a few rare individuals, most women’s lives are literally hidden from history – or at least, the official histories. The records of what most women in previous centuries thought, felt and achieved simply don’t exist. Anne’s last husband Magnus, my 9th great grandfather, was a published writer, so we have some insight into his thoughts and feelings. And the actions of a number of of my other male ancestors are written about in contemporary records. But no records remain of what Anne thought or felt. In common with countless other women, her voice is lost to history. Recovering her story, and and those of other women in my family history, is a small step towards making up for that loss, and honouring their memory.