Harry Potter and the Spanish Armada

September 22, 20207:48 amLeave a Comment

From time to time I’m delighted to feature a guest blogger on Seeking Surrey Ancestors. My friend and colleague Isabel Sullivan has worked for Surrey Heritage, in its various incarnations, for more years than either of us would like to remember. Isabel has spent many years working with pre-19th century documents and her experience of translating Latin and transcribing early texts is legendary among her colleagues and in addition to this, she’s a great teacher.  We have collaborated on various projects and I have learned so much about using pre-1800 documents for family history research – most importantly, how not to be scared of them!  She has recently been exploring one of her favourite collections, the Loseley manuscripts and is pleased to offer this piece of advice and knowledge for all us ‘newbies’ to early records:

Seeking our ancestors in the more distant past, we can always hope for a bit of magical serendipity.

Image of a Muster Roll, SHC ref LM/1330/43/74

Muster Roll, SHC ref LM/1330/43/74

Parish registers and the 19th and early 20th century Census data are indispensable for our research and they were always intended, and even legislated for, as comprehensive sources of information about the population. But there is a great wealth of other records listing and describing individual people, which were created and kept locally for very specific purposes, and survive from early modern or even medieval times. Comprehensive they aren’t, but there is always the chance that one of these might contain that name you are looking for, and a unique clue towards picturing a past life.

The names in the image are:

  • John Keynne c.
  • John Hewat q.
  • Roberte Russell b.
  • James Turner m.
  • Hary Potter c.
  • James Russell c.
  • Thomas Wakeford m.
  • John Parsonn c. t.
  • Thomas Cox m.
  • John Cox m.
  • John Head p.

Surrey History Centre and other local record offices hold documents compiled by local men under commission from the government. Their findings would be returned, so fair copies may be held at the National Archives, but working copies and associated papers can remain. Here we are talking about such matters as Crown taxation, and, today’s talking point, musters.

Muster lists of the Tudor period are a record of counties’ provision for the defence of the realm. Able-bodied men of each parish might be required to serve in the event of an invasion, such as that threatened by the Spanish Armada in 1588. A number of muster lists are held in the Loseley Manuscripts at Surrey History Centre (SHC ref LM/section B). Some are a record of the wealthier sort who had to supply horses, armour and weapons: among these gentry and yeomen farmers are also listed a few women, generally widows of substance. Other lists record the men themselves who would be required to report for duty to the deputy lieutenants of the county, to become part of a ‘trained band’.

In November 1596, the continued threat to Queen Elizabeth’s Protestant England, looming from the Spanish Netherlands, prompted the deputy lieutenants in Surrey to prepare new lists of men in readiness (SHC ref LM/1330/43/1-74). The muster lists surviving cover the western side of the county, and are simple lists of men’s names annotated with letters apparently indicating the equipment they were allotted.

Image of the Cecil Chapel, Wimbledon SHC ref 4348/1/54/3

The Cecil Chapel, Wimbledon SHC ref 4348/1/54/3

Some of the 1596 parish lists state that all the men are ‘able-bodied’ or ‘serviceable’, while the East Horsley list goes so far as to say that it records all the men in the parish between 3 score years (60) and 16 (SHC ref LM/1330/43/63). A certain ‘Hary Potter’ appears, alive and able-bodied in the Worplesdon list (SHC ref LM/1330/43/74). His name is marked with a ‘c’, perhaps to show he was equipped with a corselet (body armour), while his neighbours John Hewat, Roberte Russell and James Turner were equipped with a qualiver (gun), bill and musket respectively.

Some men from the trained bands might be selected for the army, and 50 had already been required from Surrey to fight overseas in July 1596 (SHC ref LM/COR/3/556). We can’t tell from the musters whether this was Harry’s destiny (soldiers’ pay books do sometimes survive), but we can place him as ready and possibly willing in Worplesdon at this date. Earlier musters record other Potters in Worplesdon: an Anthonie Potter listed as a pike man in 1592-3, and a William Potter in 1572, among the ‘bill men of the best sort’.

The Loseley muster lists were transcribed and indexed by Surrey Record Society (interestingly during World War I) and the volumes are available at Surrey History Centre (SRS II, X and XI). These are just some of the fantastic sources we can make use of to piece together and enliven our ancestors’ stories.

The National Archives records are explained in their guide to finding records of individual soldiers from the medieval and early modern periods

Locally held records are listed in Jeremy Gibson and Alan Dell, ‘Tudor and Stuart Muster Rolls’ (FFHS, 1989) and further information about the Cecil Chapel and its equipment can be found in ‘Surrey Archaeological Collections Vol XXXIV). Both of these are held here at Surrey History Centre.

Isabel is always delighted to undertake paid transcription and Latin translation work so if you have a will or any other manuscript among your family history papers (and it doesn’t have to be in Surrey!) she would be only too happy to help. Remember, that seemingly insignificant piece of Latin text could be the key to unlocking another family history puzzle!

Keep safe and well and Happy Researching!

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Written by Jane Lewis - Modified by ESP Admin

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