Elizabeth Marvyn, Forgotten Tudor Woman of Berkshire and Wiltshire

Elizabeth was the wife of Richard Parkyns, a Berkshire gentleman who lived in Ufton near Burghfield, Berkshire. A record of the Star Chamber in 1534 records her as bravely intervening when a man named Humphrey Foster burst into their home and assaulted her husband. She was recorded as holding Humphrey by both arms as he lashed out with a sword as if to injure Richard or a gentleman named William More. The account states that it was her pleading which led Humphrey to ask a servant to take his sword and leave the house, with a few bitter insults directed at those present. 

On Richard's death in 1560, Elizabeth became a widow. He had written his will on 26 January 1559, in the first year of the reign of Elizabeth I. In it, he requests to be buried in Ufton church and gives funds not only to Ufton but also Padworth Church and Salisbury Cathedral.  He bequeathed a number of valuables to his wife, including all their houses and the 'site of the manor and mansion house of Ufton' including all ponds, meadows and lands he owned during his lifetime. He also asked that Elizabeth bring up Francis and Dorothy, the children of his brother, William. Signing off, he leaves any possessions not bequeathed elsewhere to his wife, and asks Sir Francis Englefield to help her execute the will, along with his cousin Thomas Vachell. 

Elizabeth erected a beautifully-crafted monument to her husband in Ufton Church, but it steadily fell into decline in the following centuries. It was vandalised in the seventeenth century, although Ashmole wrote in 1660 that he saw shields that survived. Some were from Elizabeth's own family, representing her parents Sir John Mompesson and Alice Leigh as well as her grandparents on both sides. A sketch of the tomb shows the couple kneeling at a prayer book on a stand, facing one another. Richard is depicted in armour, bare-headed, while Elizabeth has a long and elaborate ruff, a cloak and gown. His arms are also depicted, along with those of his family and ancestors. The monument was dismantled and much of it lost when new work on the church was carried out in 1860. Some of it was discovered years later as a decoration in a garden, while other fragments were found propping up one end of a pig trough on a nearby farm. What could be found of the sculpture was pieced together and returned to the church in the late nineteenth century, albeit in a very fragmented state. 

Ufton Court today, where Elizabeth's Pole Manor is believed to have once stood. Wikimedia Commons

It was not long before Elizabeth took a new husband, Sir John Marvyn, who lived in Fountell Gifford in Wiltshire. He was involved in local government and served as MP, during Mary I's reign but died in 1566. Elizabeth then, inherited Marvyn's lands too. The following year, her income now more than comfortable, she purchased Pole Manor, at one time owned by the notorious Sir Francis Lovell, via a relative of hers named Richard Brunynge. Mary Sharp, a historian writing towards the end of the nineteenth century believed that Pole Manor was once on the site of Ufton Court, an Elizabethan home nearby.

Lady Marvyn died in 1581, a very wealthy woman. She left behind a long and detailed will, requesting burial in Ufton Church, where her first husband lay. Her many lands in Berkshire and Wiltshire were bequeathed to her relative Francis, and bushels of wheat were ordered to be shared with the poor of villages and towns, so that they could make good bread. She also requested that her executors arrange to distribute cloth once a year for the poor to make clothes. Other items bequeathed to members of her family and loved ones included cattle, horses, ploughs and sheep, showing her daily involvement in overseeing the handling of livestock on her lands. 

She provided for the education of her cousins and their children and their 'bringing up in virtue and learning' and also ensured that arrangements were made for her servant, Thomas Towne, to be housed in Padworth, rent-free. 

So what can we glean of Elizabeth's character? Both husbands bequeathed their vast estates to her, and so she must have proved a capable administrator during their marriages to her. In addition, her will primarily deals with the transfer of lands, contracts and agreements rather than the sentimental giving away of personal heirlooms. Elizabeth was certainly a savvy businesswoman and householder and this comes through in her will. She would have dealt with the care of her livestock, estates, legal matters and executed the wishes of her husbands, too in her day to day life. A bold woman, she was brave enough in 1534 to have held back a man attempting to kill her husband and their guests in their home while he wielded a sword in their chamber. Begging him to calm down, her words directly led to his departure. Elizabeth was also known to local men of power, including Sir Francis Englefield and Sir Edmund Plowden, men who later became tangled up in Catholic treason during Elizabeth I's reign. However Elizabeth's traces in the historical record are just a small fraction of the woman she once was. She lived a long life, and was once remembered in a tomb she commissioned at Ufton church. It is just ironic that the woman who donated so much to the local church, the welfare of the poor and the administration of local estates was almost too easily forgotten, by a Victorian architect who threw out her tomb in a renovation. 

Enjoyed this? You might also like The Witches of ReadingThe Women of Reading Abbey and The History of the Englefield Family in Berkshire. Or go up to the search bar on the top right of the page and search for anything you're looking for - there are lots of historical stories here. 

Elizabeth Marvyn is a forgotten woman of the Tudor age. My book, Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses is published by Pen and Sword Books and discusses many woman of the fifteenth century conflict that played parts we don't often hear about to day. You can Order your copy here.

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From: Mary Sharp. The History of Ufton Court, London. 1892.