The Woodforde Family
The Revd Thomas Ball
Ball was the 30th incumbent of All
Saints since 1227. The Mayor and Alderman were the patrons of the
benefice. The seven vicars prior to Ball had resigned from office and
several immediately prior to Ball (William Jennings, John Johnson and
Edward Reynolds) were known to be ardent puritans.
contributions to this site are welcome.
© Stephen Butt 2004 - rev
The Diary of Robert Woodford - Local Context
Robert Woodforde was born into a lively and supportive puritan community in the village of Old. From numerous references in the diary it is known that both his parents had been active supporters of the puritan movement, not only as members of their church community, but in being involved in raising money for those Northamptonshire families planning to travel to New England, and in the many informal meetings in private homes which they attended.
In seeking to define the structure of the puritan network of support
and friendship, which undoubtedly existed in Northamptonshire at the
time of the diarist's birth, it is important to consider the
patronage of Sir Richard Knightley of Fawsley, a manor on the
western edge of the county. It was at Fawsley that the second of
the notorious Marprelate Tracts was printed in 1588 after the press
had been moved there secretly from London.
The connection between the London‑based puritan printer Robert Waldegrave and the puritan community of Northamptonshire appears to have been in the person of John Penry, a Welshman who was living at Kingston in Surrey in April 1588 when Waldegrave's London press was raided. Waldegrave had already printed a puritan work for Penry. He had been able to escape from the raid carrying a box of type and sought refuge in the home of the widow of Nicholas Crane, a puritan minister from Roehampton who had died in Newgate Prison. During the summer of 1588 Waldegrave and Penry together printed tracts at Widow Crane's house at East Mosely, near Kingston.
Penry was a close friend of Edmund Snape, a curate at St. Peter's, Northampton and an active radical puritan, and in September 1588 married Eleanor Godley, a young woman who attended worship at All Saints, Northampton. Penry first met Sir Richard Knightley at Northampton on July 25th of that year, and Waldegrave arrived at Fawsley in October 1588.
It is not relevant to this study to detail the method by which the press reached Fawsley, but it is important to establish the link between the Marprelate Tracts and diarist's church of All Saints. On 29 January 1589, the house of Eleanor Godley's father in Northampton, whose family worshipped at All Saints, was raided and some copies of the second tract were found. At about that same time the press was removed from Fawsley and relocated to Coventry. John Penry was condemned to death and executed. Knightley was fined two thousand pounds and imprisoned.
The involvement of Sir Richard Knightley in the Marprelate
conspiracy is the most well‑known aspect of his support for the
puritan community, but his patronage extended well beyond the
boundaries of Fawsley. In this patronage there are several clear
links with the Woodforde family's local community. Knightley owned
one of the manors at Old, having married Joan Skennard, the
daughter of Sir Henry Skennard, and heiress to the manor. Robert Woodforde was a son of Jane Dexter, the heiress of the second manor
in Old. Furthermore, a number of very influential puritan preachers
were protected and fostered by Knightley and by others of the
puritan gentry. These included the Revd. Eusebius Paget, who for
some time served as Rector of Old.
Paget was the third son of Richard Paget of Cranford near Burton Latimer in Northamptonshire and Katherine, eldest daughter of Eusebius Isham of Pytchley. He was born at Cranford during the reign of Mary and educated at Christchurch College, Oxford. He was often in conflict with the authorities and frequently suspended for his non‑conformist sermons. He served as Rector of Old from 1569 to 1576, and as Rector of Lamport from 1572 to 1574. He was suspended for a third time in 1598 by which time he was the minister at St. Botoph's, Aldgate where he remained until about 1604. It appears that Paget was first suspended whilst Rector of Lamport in 1573 for refusing to use the Prayer Book and again in 1576, whilst Rector of Old, for his part in organising the Northamptonshire and Warwickshire puritan classis, and again in 1564 in Cornwall for preaching against the Prayer Book.
After his turbulent
ecclesiastical career, Paget took up school teaching in Heston in
Middlesex and subsequently in Deptford. It has been suggested that
a reference in one of the Marprelate Tracts (1589) indicates that
Paget was suspected of being one of the Marprelate authors. Pierce.
in his Introduction to the Marprelate Tracts. discounts that notion.
Pierce agrees that Paget does seem to have been singled out as a
special target for the gibes of the antimartinists but argues that
they could not have had any personal knowledge of him or else they
would not have called him halt or club‑footed. Pierce maintains
that it was only Paget's arm that was disabled. Pierce's conclusion
on the matter of the possible association of Paget with the
Marprelate Tracts is that:
However, P.L. Seaver's research into the puritan lectureships in the London area suggests that Paget was indeed lame. Seaver has found that in the vestry minutes of St. Botolph's, Aldgate at the time when the incumbent was about to move to a Leicestershire rectory there is a record that:
There had been a strong tradition of puritan activity at All Saints, Northampton. In 1557, a shoemaker in the parish of Syresham in Northamptonshire was sentenced to death at All Saints for denying transubstantiation. Fox, in his Acts and Monuments gives the following account:‑
It is also generally accepted that the puritan exercises known as Prophesyings originated at All Saints. The rules drawn up at Northampton in 1571 for these devotional meetings are the earliest known to exist. The system was adopted in part by the dioceses of London and Norwich and later extended to parts of the dioceses of York, Chester, Durham and Ely. Inevitably, the Prophesyings were suppressed, in a letter from the Queen to each of her bishops in May 1577. In Northampton, the suppression coincided with one of several epidemics of the plague to spread to the town during the 16th and 17th centuries.
However, the puritan community in Northampton reacted to the suppression of the Prophesyings by the creation of `classes' or boards of puritan clergy, meeting locally to regulate church government in direct opposition to the bishops. In Northamptonshire the classis seem to have been held most frequently at the Bull Inn on the south side of All Saints church. Incidentally, Thomas Ball was appointed vicar of All Saints, Northampton in 1629, the same year in which Laud's campaign of Armenian reform began in earnest. Nathaniel Brent's visitation reached Northampton in 1635. and reported on the church of All Saints on 11 and 12 May.
In 1637 Francis Dee who had been appointed Bishop of Peterborough in
1634, the first year of Laud's primacy, appointed two local men who
were in sympathy with the principles of Armenianism to make further
reforms within the diocese. The two clergy appointed to the task as
Episcopal commissioners were Dr Samuel Clarke and Dr Robert
Sibthorpe. A detailed report on All Saints was drawn up and
submitted on 26 October 1637. The commissioners' visits to local
churches were recorded by Robert Woodforde on 31 August 1637:‑