The Davall family of Ramsey: enter Jane Austen and a duke

The church of St Michael at Ramsey

It is a truth universally acknowledged that somewhere in your family tree research you’ll find something that really surprises you. Jane Austen, distantly via a duke, and in her bicentennial year, has to be one of the most unexpected finds in my tree.

The Cardinall family was quite an important one in north-east Essex, as were the Davalls, and they were connected by the Whittakers. In about 1740, William Cardinall married Elizabeth Theobald, granddaughter of William Whittaker of St Osyth. Elizabeth Theobald’s maternal uncle, John Whittaker, married Mary Davall (as a widow, Mary Stephens), in 1729. Descendents of John and Mary Whittaker, via their daughter Mary, kept the surnames Whittaker and Davall (or Duvall sometimes) alive after Mary’s marriage to Thomas Cooper. These names were important to them.

But who were the Davalls of Ramsey?

To Norfolk

To answer that question, we have to go to Great Yarmouth.1)If you were young in East Anglia in the 1980s, please put aside all thoughts of Woody the Bear at Pleasurewood Hills theme park.

It was in Great Yarmouth that Thomas Davall married Anne Colby in 1613.2)Thomas’ surname is spelt Davill in the register. In transcriptions, his wife’s name varies between Anne and Amy, but this seems to be because the handwriting has a flourish, which adds a stem to the end of Anne, making it look like it ends in a Y, and hence could be read as “Amy”. They had least seven children between 1615 and 1624. Thomas died in July 1628, the burial register telling us that he was a brewer. He may have been quite young; certainly his children were still small. In his will, he left £40 each to his sons Cuthbert, John, Thomas and Benjamin and £50 each to his daughters Anne and Margaret. The remainder of his estate was left to his wife Anne.

It’s the two brothers Cuthbert and Thomas (the 2nd) who we now need to follow. Cuthbert remained in Great Yarmouth, and appears to have died in 1690.3)Norfolk Record Office holds an inventory for a Cuthbert Davall, widower of Great Yarmouth, dated 1690 He had at least one child, John, and possibly a daughter called Hester. Thomas, meanwhile, went to London to seek his fortune, and find it he most certainly did.

Thomas Davall the 2nd

He became a merchant, spending several years in Amsterdam. By the 1650s he was back in London, living in the parish of St Mary-at-Hill. Nine children are mentioned in his will when he died in 1663 – at least eleven had been born to him and his wife Anne Potts, two dying in childhood. Of his five sons, Jasper would go to Germany as a merchant, and Thomas the 3rd would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a London merchant. Thomas the 2nd had five daughters, and one of them, Lydia, married John Van Hattem,4)Spellings vary a Dutch merchant. In his will, Thomas the 2nd left £5 to his brother Cuthbert in Great Yarmouth, and £10 to his “cousin” John Davall, as well as £5 to his “cousin” Hester Davall.

“Cousin” can be quite a flexible term – if the John Davall mentioned in the will is Cuthbert’s son, then today we would describe him as Thomas the 2nd’s nephew.

Thomas the 3rd

Thomas the 3rd became the Recorder of Harwich and a freeman of Colchester. He had an extensive career. He married Rebecca, daughter of Daniel Burr, another British merchant in Amsterdam, and in 1687 he bought several manors in Essex, including Ramsey. The manors had belonged to William Whitmore, who was buried at Ramsey in 1678. In 1684, Whitmore’s only surviving child, another William, was injured when his gun went off in a carriage. Even his will refers to this misfortune: “I William Whitmore of Balmes, Middlesex, being by an Unfortunate accidenct of a shott in my legg brought in danger of my life….’ His father had bequeathed the manors to him, and to the male heirs of his body. But there were none. Instead, as per his father’s will, they would descend to the male children of William senr’s sister. Being spread between so many people presumably explains why the manors were sold.

The manors were in Ramsey, in nearby Wrabness, as well as in Fobbing and Thurrock. Thomas the 3rd bought the whole lot and decided to live in Ramsey. Well, it was quite near Harwich….

John Davall and Priscilla Jones

And who else should turn up in Ramsey at around the same time, other than John Davall – Cuthbert’s son, and first cousin of Thomas the 3rd? Thomas was clearly more wealthy than John, so he may have hired John to work for him, hence making it worth John’s while to relocate from Great Yarmouth.

In 1693, John Davall married Priscilla Jones at Lawford; both lived at Ramsey at the time. She had been born in Frating in about 1673, where her grandmother (another Priscilla Jones) had lived. Her father had been a farmer back in 1663 when his mother left all her “implements of husbandry” to him, but by the time he wrote his will in 1681, when Priscilla was about 8 years old, he was a “seafaring man” of Brightlingsea. He left Priscilla two houses in Colchester, and £20; £10 of which to be paid by her brother Robert from some land in Fingringhoe. Jones had probably given Robert the land before he came to write his will, which perhaps indicates that Robert was some years older than his sister. It’s possible that Priscilla’s mother, Mary, married again in 1682, to a man called Richard Nason.5)The marriage register for Colchester St James only gives their names and the date, omitting marital status and abode. There’s a marriage licence allegation at ERO for Mary Jones and Richard “Nayson” which would hopefully show whether or not this Mary Jones is Stephen’s widow.

John and Priscilla Davall had six children between 1695 and 1710. Amongst them was a daughter called Mary, possibly named after Priscilla’s mother – this Mary would marry John Whittaker in 1729. Three of Mary’s brothers survived into adulthood: John (1695-1760), Thomas (1702-1774) and Nathaniel (1705-1730). There were two other brothers, both called Daniel, who died in 1709 and 1710 as children – it’s possible they were named after Daniel Burr, father-in-law of John’s cousin.

John died in 1716, stating in his will that he was the son of Cuthbert Davall of Great Yarmouth – perhaps to indicate that he wasn’t part of Thomas the 3rd’s brood. He left Priscilla copyhold tenements in Fingringhoe called Hay Farm, and two freehold “brick tenements” in St Leonard’s, Colchester.

These may well be the same properties which are mentioned in Stephen Jones’ will. He described the Colchester houses as being “in the Heath” – St Leonard’s is also known as “St Leonards-on-the-Hythe”, and considering the random spellings in Stephen’s will (his daughter is named as Pressely), it’s quite possible that “in the Heath” in fact means “in the Hythe”.6)And maybe “Hythe” evolved from “Heath” anyway. If Priscilla’s brother Robert had died with neither issue nor wife, and without leaving a will stating otherwise, then Priscilla and her mother would have inherited her brother’s property in Fingringhoe. But John Davall, in his will, leaves these to her – the farm in Fingringhoe to eventually become Nathaniel’s, and the houses in Colchester to be left by Priscilla to whichever of her children “may stand in most need.”

Eldest son John would inherit all the stock on Michaelstow farm in Ramsey, daughter Mary inherited copyhold in Fingringhoe called Weolds-at-the-Grosse, and son Thomas would inherit a freehold farm in Elmstead called Coopers and Casers (or Cassers and Coopers as it appears in another ERO document). The rest and residue of his estate was to be divided between his four children. When Thomas Davall died in 1774, he left his property called Coopers and Birches – presumably that farm in Elmstead – to his nephew, John Davall.

This all seems to have gone smoothly. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of what was going on in Thomas the 3rd’s family.

Thomas the 4th

Thomas and Rebecca had three children: Daniel born 1677, Anna Maria born 1679, and Thomas (the 4th) born 1682. It seems that Anna Maria died in London in 1687 – at least, a Mary, daughter of Thomas Davall, was buried at St Stephen’s Coleman Street that year. In 1683, Thomas the 3rd was knighted, the ceremony taking place at Whitehall. And not long afterwards, he bought all that property in Essex.

His son Daniel never married, but in April 1712 Thomas the 4th married one Lydia Catherine Van Hattem. If the name seems familiar, this is because Thomas and Lydia Catherine were first cousins –  she was the daughter of Thomas the 3rd’s aunt, Lydia Davall, wife of John Van Hattem. A marriage settlement was made, based on the manors of Fobbing and Stanford-le-Hope, and other properties that Davall owned around Essex.

Sir Thomas Davall died in December 1712, and was buried in the chancel of St Michael’s church in Ramsey. His will is extremely brief, stating that his wife Rebecca and his son Thomas the 4th were to pay Sir Thomas’ sisters Mary and Elizabeth £300 each, and £200 to “my cozen John Davall” (one supposes this is John in Ramsey, Priscilla’s husband), along with a couple of other small legacies. He didn’t specify anything for his wife or children, but had presumably already provided for them.

In 1713, Thomas the 4th – Tory MP for Harwich – was knighted at Kensington. He was 31. He and Lydia Catherine produced two sons in quick succession: yet another Thomas (the 5th), and a John. Thomas the 4th fell ill in 1714 – when he wrote his ill, his second son “lately borne” was so young that he isn’t even named in the will. On 6th May 1714, Thomas the 4th died and was buried in the chancel at Ramsey with his father. He had left two sons so his line was secure – or was it?

John died first, early in 1716, barely two years old. But there was still Thomas, wasn’t there? Except Thomas died in June 1717. And chaos ensued, of the kind that Jane Austen or even Charles Dickens would relish.

The deathbed slip of the pen

Thomas the 4th’s will left his Essex property to his eldest son, and his London property to his youngest. He then stated that “if both of my said sons shall depart this life with issue of their or either of their bodys lawfully begotten then I give all the said premises in the said county of Essex [the manors bought from the Whitmores] and parish of St Buttolphs without Allgate [St Botolph’s without Aldgate in London] unto my Cosen Daniel Burr of Amsterdam merchant his heirs and assigns forever.”

If you are familiar with the language of wills, then you’ll spot the anomaly at once. Why would Thomas give preferment to his cousin over his own grandchildren?

Well… it’s because he probably didn’t. It seems fairly obvious that it’s a deathbed slip-of-the-pen. Even the official copy of the will says “with” heirs, but with a smudge immediately after the word, as if the clerk who was copying it up entered “without”, not noticing what the original wording was, and had to go back and erase it. This slip up hadn’t been a problem while Thomas the 4th’s son had been alive. As soon as the youngest son, John, passed away, his older brother became Thomas the 4th’s sole heir, but once he died… there was a problem.

And the other rather tricky issue was that in his will, Thomas the 4th had apparently forgotten that some of his Essex property was part of the jointure with his wife.

And so, it ended up in Chancery.

Burr v Van Hattem

Lined up against Daniel Burr, were John Van Hattem (Lydia Catherine’s brother, and of course Thomas the 4th’s first cousin as well), Lydia Van Hattem (mother of John and Lydia Catherine, and aunt of Thomas the 4th), Elizabeth and Mary Davall (the spinster sisters of Thomas the 3rd) and Catherine Bovey.7)Daughter of John Riches and Anne Davall. Unhappily married, Bovey was widowed at 22, and refused to remarry. She became a philanthropist (granddaughter of Thomas the 3rd).

The dispute rattled on for several years. The case originally questioned whether or not Thomas the 4th was compos mentis at the time of making the will – the Essex property was worth less per annum than the London property, and what sort of madness was it for a man to leave a more valuable property to his youngest son, rather than his eldest? But the plaintiffs also brought up the issue of the jointure, and argued over whether Thomas the 4th really meant “with” or “without”.

Eventually a resolution of sorts was reached, in 1722, ruling in Burr’s favour.8)Modern Reports: Or, Select Cases Adjudged in the Courts of King’s Bench, Volume 8, edited by Thomas Leach. Unpaginated. It would appear that there were fears that not finding in Burr’s favour would set a dangerous precedent: “there would be but little room left for a man in his last sickness to make any settlement or provision for his family.” In order to bring things to a close, Burr relinquished his claim on the Essex estates that were included in Lydia Catherine’s jointure.

The merry widow?

Lydia Catherine had only been 20 at the time her husband died, and was 23 at the death of her last child. She seems to have been living in St Botolph’s Aldgate at the time, and then by 1731 had moved to the London parish of St Clement Danes. These movements can be seen in several other Chancery suits that she was involved in, which state her abodes.9)Davall v Palmer, 1717: she is resident in St Botolph’s Aldgate. Davall v Usgate, 1731: she is resident in St Clement Danes.

Despite losing out on most of her husband’s property, she was still a wealthy woman. Would she be content to remain a widow, as her cousin Catherine Bovey would do?

No. On 13 April 1736, Lydia Catherine married James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos. She had presumably been in his circle for some time, as in 1720, at the time of the South Sea collapse, Duchess Cassandra had approached Lydia to see if she could lend the duke some money. before. At the time of Lydia’s marriage to the duke, she was in her 40s, perhaps unlikely to produce an heir, but James wanted companionship, having already lost two wives. And perhaps we might paraphrase Austen: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a widow in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband.” (or at least Brydges, who rather liked money, would have thought so).10)There is an enormous tome about Brydges, by C H Collins Baker and Muriel I Baker, The Life and Circumstances of James Brydges First Duke of Chandos, Patron of the Liberal Arts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949. They were confused about the various Thomas Davalls. Should anyone else similarly be, then worry not, for I have untangled it.

The link to Jane Austen

Brydges’ sister, Mary, married Theophilus Leigh; Jane Austen’s great-grandparents.

Is it a coincidence that the maiden name of Duchess Cassandra was Willoughby? This name, after all, turns up in Sense & Sensibility. But then it might be worth pondering what Austen knew about the duke’s other wives. Did Lydia Catherine bestow her name upon any other of Austen’s characters?

Janine Barchas, in Matters of Fact in Jane Austen, writes about Egerton Brydges, who tried to claim that he was a relative of James Brydges and therefore that he should become the Duke of Chandos once the Chandos line became extinct. Austen knew of Brydges’ attempt to claim affinity with James Brydges’ line; once the House of Lords decided against Egerton Brydges’ claim, he called himself Baron Chandos of Sudeley anyway! Barchas says that Arthur Collins, author of The Peerage of England, probably gave Austen the name for the dreadful, obsequious Mr Collins in Pride & Prejudice. In 1808, Egerton revised Collins’ edition, and said that his Brydges were linked to the House of De Burgh.

Now, if Austen knew of Lady Lydia Catherine, might she have combined Egerton’s claim to be linked with the De Burghs, with the name of a woman who really was related to the duke, and lo, there appeared Lady Catherine de Bourgh? I can’t quite see her being the origin of flighty and flirty gaddabout Lydia Bennet, but considering that Lydia Catherine had gone into Chancery battle against a man named Burr, and on marrying Sir Thomas Davall she became Lady Lydia Catherine, might it be completely ridiculous to ponder whether her name gave issue to Lady Catherine de Bourgh? Although of course one hopes that the original Lydia Catherine wasn’t a horrible old cow.

Which might even add an extra layer of eyebrow-quirked amusement for Austen, skewering the prententions of Egerton Brydges and Mr Collins, if for some reason she knew that Lydia Catherine was the great-granddaughter of a brewer?

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. If you were young in East Anglia in the 1980s, please put aside all thoughts of Woody the Bear at Pleasurewood Hills theme park.
2. Thomas’ surname is spelt Davill in the register. In transcriptions, his wife’s name varies between Anne and Amy, but this seems to be because the handwriting has a flourish, which adds a stem to the end of Anne, making it look like it ends in a Y, and hence could be read as “Amy”.
3. Norfolk Record Office holds an inventory for a Cuthbert Davall, widower of Great Yarmouth, dated 1690
4. Spellings vary
5. The marriage register for Colchester St James only gives their names and the date, omitting marital status and abode. There’s a marriage licence allegation at ERO for Mary Jones and Richard “Nayson” which would hopefully show whether or not this Mary Jones is Stephen’s widow.
6. And maybe “Hythe” evolved from “Heath” anyway.
7. Daughter of John Riches and Anne Davall. Unhappily married, Bovey was widowed at 22, and refused to remarry. She became a philanthropist
8. Modern Reports: Or, Select Cases Adjudged in the Courts of King’s Bench, Volume 8, edited by Thomas Leach. Unpaginated.
9. Davall v Palmer, 1717: she is resident in St Botolph’s Aldgate. Davall v Usgate, 1731: she is resident in St Clement Danes.
10. There is an enormous tome about Brydges, by C H Collins Baker and Muriel I Baker, The Life and Circumstances of James Brydges First Duke of Chandos, Patron of the Liberal Arts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949. They were confused about the various Thomas Davalls. Should anyone else similarly be, then worry not, for I have untangled it.