Sir William Lovelace, Knight of Bethersden

Sir William Lovelace of Bethersden, 1561-1629

Sir William Lovelace of Bethersden (1561-1629) was a soldier, knighted in 1599 for his role in suppressing an Irish rebellion. He was also a stockholder of the Virginia Company, a Kent magistrate, and a Member of Parliament for Canterbury. His life began on an uneven financial footing and ended in penury.

The son of Serjeant Lovelace, he was only 15 when his father died and left him with substantial property but also lots of debts and lawsuits. Worst was a payment of  £800 owed to Roger Manwood, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, tied to a lawsuit stemming from his father’s purchase of the Hospital of St. Lawrence in Canterbury. Manwood waited till after the Serjeant’s death to pounce. He did this despite having said at the time that “as the Serjeant was dead it was time their quarrels were forgotten.” Young Lovelace’s aunt, Margaret Cooke, pleaded with the Baron to settle the suit, as her nephew “was but young, fatherless and almost without friends.” Manwood replied “he might hang himself or sell his land” but clear the title he must.

In 1581 when Lovelace was 20, he married Elizabeth Aucher, she of the fabulous pedigree. They had three children, Richard, Sir William, and Mabel. Richard died young and Mabel married a London mercer named Sir John Collymore. Lovelace ended his days living with his daughter, after Elizabeth died and Mabel was widowed.

Lovelace fought in Ireland during the 1590s and was knighted by the Earl of Essex in 1599 after suppressing a rebellion at Offaly. By 1602 he was serving with English forces in the Netherlands. The following November, he and his son, Capt. William Lovelace, were captured in a supply boat off the Dutch coast. Lovelace was held prisoner while his son was let go to raise a ransom of 2,000 gulden (about £180), and an additional sum for the 14 soldiers captured with him. The younger Lovelace put together a ship’s cargo of beer and other goods to sell in Dunkirk, but – despite being protected by a royal passport – the vessel was seized by a Dutch warship and its contents sold as booty. It took an intervention by the King, the Privy Council, and the Lord Admiral to pry the money out of the Dutch and give the proceeds back to Capt. Lovelace. He freed his father in early 1604.

Lovelace went back to Holland in November 1604 and evidently pestered the English ambassador at The Hague, Sir Ralph Winwood, with minor matters. Winwood noted that “I have been pressed again and again to trouble your Lordship with these papers of Sir W. Lovelace,” and that Lovelace “is much more afraid than I think there is cause.” A more pressing problem arose in 1606, when Lovelace’s son stabbed an English prostitute to death in Flushing and was nearly lynched by an angry mob. After strenuous lobbying, Lovelace obtained a pardon for his son.

His retirement was plagued with financial trouble. In 1611 he negotiated a marriage alliance between his son William and Anne Barne, the daughter of Sir William Barne of Woolwich. In return for a dowry of £1,500, Lovelace pledged to give most of his land in Bethersden to his son, and to raise money for additional property by selling all his woodland. But he was so strapped that he pocketed the £1,700 from the sale of his woods, and the properties he gave his son and bride were heavily encumbered. Barnes took Lovelace to court. Meanwhile, Lovelace gave up Greyfriars, his last substantial property, to his principal creditor: son-in-law Sir John Collymore. The entire affair is thought to have driven a wedge between father and son.

There’s speculation that Lovelace ran for Parliament in 1614 hoping to gain protection from his creditors. He wasn’t known for having any interest in politics, and he didn’t do much once in office. He ran again twice, unsuccessfully, in 1620 and 1624. During the 1624 campaign, a Canterbury yeoman named Simon Penny told other voters that Lovelace was unsuitable because he “did cross himself before the French or Spanish ambassador,” and that “many of the city had popes in their bellies and he did not know, but the captain [Lovelace] might have one in his belly.” Lovelace was so incensed that he reported this slander to the mayor. It turns out that the papal slur was encouraged by Sir Edwin Sandys, who was supporting an opponent. Sandys was Archbishop of York and the grandfather of Anne Barne, who had married William’s son in 1611. I guess the moral is, don’t try to stiff your relatives and their in-laws.

His last two years were just sad. His wife Elizabeth died, and his son William was killed in battle during the Siege of Groll, Holland, in 1627. Lovelace was listed as a Forced Loan defaulter and moved in with his daughter Mabel Collymore. He was in such tightened straits that he had to borrow £10 from the dean of Canterbury Cathedral, a further £10 from the Earl of Cork (in order to repay the dean), and £6 from one Mistress Hawkins on the security of some of his household goods, including “my crimson bed.”

Six days after drawing up his will, Lovelace was buried, according to his wishes, in the south chapel in St. Margaret’s, Bethersden. His executor was his daughter-in-law, Anne Barne Lovelace. Among the goods she inherited were portraits of Lovelace and her husband, both of which now hang in the Dulwich Picture Gallery. The bequests were few. His grandson, James Collymore, was offered “my best beaver hat, all my books, my purple cloth cloak, my hose and doublet belonging thereunto, if he will accept thereof,” and two portraits of his parents.

Sir William Lovelace is an ancestor of Alice Vernon Wilson.

Sources:

  • “Lovelace, Sir William (1561-1629), of Lovelace Place, Bethersden and Greyfriars, Canterbury, Kent,” The History of Parliament: British Political, Social, and Local History, website.
  • Pleasants, J.H., “The Lovelace Family and Its Connections,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 28, 1 Jan 1920.

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