Serjeant William Lovelace, ca. 1527-1577

Serjeant William Lovelace in 1576

Back in 1247, the Lovelace family settled at Bethersden, in the Weald of Kent, and in 1367 purchased the property that was to become Lovelace Place. Two members of the family, possibly brothers, joined Cade’s Rebellion in 1450; another allegedly played a crucial role during the Second Battle of St. Albans in 1461 by withdrawing his Yorkist contingent from the fight. It was probably that man’s son, Sir Richard Lovelace, who served as marshal of Calais under Henry VII and was knighted after the Battle of Blackheath (1497).

In 1511 Sir Richard’s estates passed to a collateral branch of the family. Seated near Sittingbourne, in north Kent, its most notable member was the politician and lawyer William Lovelace, who married Anne Lewes, the daughter of Canterbury sheriff, mayor, and Member of Parliament John Lewes.

Lovelace served as the city’s counsel from 1559, counsel to the Cinque Ports (the historic ports of Rye, New Romney, Hythe, Dover, and Sandwich), was a Justice of Assize for Oxfordshire, represented Canterbury in Parliament three times under Elizabeth I, and was elevated to the position of Serjeant-at-Law. This last honor was an ancient order, now defunct, of elite lawyers who took much of the work in the common law courts.

Although William Lovelace raised the social standing of his family, some of his real estate transactions saddled his eldest son and heir, Sir William Lovelace of Bethersden and Gray Friars, with acute financial problems. More details on that in his son’s biography.

Lovelace’s parents died when he was very young, and his father’s will didn’t allow him to inherit the family property until he was 26. By that time he was probably already a barrister and practicing lawyer. 

In 1559 he was appointed to an ecclesiastical commission which visited the southwestern dioceses, covering about 700 miles in his travels. During the next few years he was active mainly in Kent. At Canterbury and Faversham he seems to have been a popular adviser: in 1564 the Faversham corporation gave him a dinner “for his aid given by his counsel unto the town,” and in addition to his annual fee of £2 he received presents of sugar and wine. In 1563 he began his first term as Member of Parliament.

The Cinque Ports during Elizabeth’s reign provided their lawyers with plenty of work. Letters from Lovelace survive about a number of their arcane disputes and claims to ancient privileges. He seems to have been noted for his incisiveness and tact.

Lovelace left a large number of properties in various parts of Kent, including, among others, Lovelace Place in Bethersden, a house and the site of the Grey Friars in the City of Canterbury, and the old Hospital of St. Lawrence near the walls of Canterbury. The purchase of this last property involved him in a long lawsuit with Roger Manwood, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, a lawsuit which carried on after his death.

Both William Lovelace and his wife Anne are buried at Canterbury Cathedral.

Serjeant William Lovelace is an ancestor of the Wilson family.

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