In which we look briefly at some elements of Humphrey Newton’s heritage which reflected the values of his time in establishing position and status in late medieval society. The genealogical elements of this post are based on text in Deborah Youngs’ book ‘Humphrey Newton (1466-1536), An Early Tudor Gentleman’. The post ends with reflections on how land acquisition, ownership of property and status as early as the 14th and 15th centuries have continued to influence the distribution of wealth and the shape of the land right through to the present time.
As part of establishing his position in society, Humphrey Sr set out his family origins in his commonplace book (see post 43). His findings saw marriages by male Newtons to women from landed families – Sybil Davenport, ‘of Davenport’, and Fenella Worth, ‘of Titherington’. Humphrey Sr’s great grandfather Richard (1336-1415) broadened family connections still further, divorcing his first wife and marrying Joan Barton, ‘of Irlam in Lancashire’. Oliver Newton was one son of this marriage, himself marrying well in 1428-9,to Alice Milton, who would be heiress to two landed estates. Rather shockingly to modern mores, it appears that Alice and Oliver were married when she was just 13, the canonical age of marriage being 12. According to Humphrey Newton, she brought with her links to the Earls of Chester, through an illegitimate line. Apparently the illegitimacy was less important than the lineage.
And so Humphrey Sr shows the acquisition of property and status in his distant ancestry. With the death from plague of his grandfather Oliver Newton in London in 1452-3, his grandmother Alice de Milton remarried to Laurence Lowe, of Denby in Derbyshire. He was a prominent lawyer, and the family connection continued through the marriage of Humphrey’s father Richard Newton to Jane Lowe. Moving down the generations, we find that Humphrey Sr married on 17 April 1490 at Handley Church, Tattenhall, to Ellen Fitton, ‘the elder daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Fitton of Pownall esquire (c.1441-1506)…It was a very good match for Humphrey because it allied the Newtons with a family of better lineage, greater landed wealth and wider social connections…Ellen’s great-grandfather was Sir Lawrence Fitton of Gawsworth (d. 1456-7), while her father took as his second wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir William Booth of Dunham Massey…’ (Youngs, pp 21-22).
Humphrey Sr and Ellen had 11 children including our direct ancestor, Humphrey Newton (1496 – ), who as the second son received modest lands in Fulshaw, near Pownall. He married Ethelred Starkey, and in my next post I will summarise their line down to the Newtons of Southover in Sussex.
In the meantime, I find myself reflecting on the legacy of folk like the Newtons to today’s English society. The lands and estates found in the Newton heritage remain on the maps of today. Some is now overseen by the National Trust, and is variably accessible to the general public. Some is privately owned, but open to the general public, such as the part of the Bollin Way which winds from Newton’s lands along the River Bollin, past the location of Newton’s Mill, to the church at Wilmslow where he and his wife Ellen Fitton lie in effigy. Yet more land mentioned in Humphrey Sr’s account is fenced off, remaining in private ownership, excluding folk from ‘trespassing’. The campaign Right to Roam (https://www.righttoroam.org.uk/) argues not against private ownership per se, but for the extension of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which gives a partial right to roam only to about 8 per cent of the English countryside. The campaign argues for much wider access to moorland, green belt land, rivers and woodlands, subject also to much stronger promotion of the Countryside Code. Although the Newtons of Cheshire and later of Sussex make up just a tiny fraction of my DNA, I feel uneasy learning more about this aspect of my heritage, which we will see in later posts is also part of the history of the Pellatts of Bignor in Sussex. Food for thought.