The family is of ancient lineage, taking  its name from the estate of Hatcliffe.  The name is first noted in Templar records circa 1184 showing 
one Ricardo de Haddeclive as witness of a charter. The next record is for Willelmo Fid' de Haddeclive, circa 1200, who witnessed a grant made by William Priest of Owersby. Between 1231-1240 he witnessed a quitclaim made by Isobel, widow of Walter, son of Gerard of Croxby, and between 1240-1253 he also witnessed a grant by William son of Hugh of Thorpe, to the church of Lincoln, of half a bovate of land in Laceby. 

The 'Testa de Nevill' or 'Book of Fees' gives us the first record of ownership by the Hatcliffe family. It states that in A.D. 1242 Alan de Haddeclive held the estate of Hatcliffe.

One branch of the Hatcliffes lived in the village, while another lived in Grimsby and Ravendale it is difficult at times to know which branch of the family they are from.  References to individual members of the family vary 
in the amount of information available.


The Hatcliffes were lords of the manor for many generations, becoming most prominent in the 15th and 16th centuries. One testimony to the high standing of the Hatcliffes in Lincolnshire society is given in a heraldic manuscript  ranking the Elizabethan gentry. The manuscript contains 219 Lincolnshire names, with their coats of arms. Of these Hatcliffe stands eighteenth in dignity. 


The Hatcliffe manor house originally stood on a site to the south of the church, now occupied by a modern bungalow. Nothing remains of the house but a few stones and a small stream fed by a natural spring, possibly part of the original moat. 

The house was built during the reign of Henry VIII and constructed of stone taken from the ruins of the church of St. Mary in Grimsby. It is said that a curse was placed on these stones that would bring ruin to anyone who used them. 

The estates of Hatcliffe and Gunnerby did pass out of Hatcliffe hands when they were sold to the Pierrepoints of Nottinghamshire in 1612/3. 


William Hatteclyffe (1416-1480) was the member of the family who rose highest in office. William was one of King's College two original scholars, named by King Henry VI in his patent founding the college on 12 Feb 1440/1. He had been a Fellow of Peterhouse; went to King's and graduated as a Doctor of medicine. He was then appointed physician to the Henry VI on 6 April 1454. On Nov 12 of the same year he was made Keeper of the Fosse, with 6d a day. 

He was exempted from an act of resumption the following year, when he was described as, "Doctor in Medicyne and Physician sworn for the saufte of our person", and is stated to have Forty pounds yearly. 

On the accession of Edward IV he transferred his services to that monarch, and in 1464 was exempted from a act of resumption , 'being one of the royal physicians. He also became secretary to Edward IV, and on 1 Sept 1464 was sent to treat with Francis Duke of Brittany, for a truce. On 5 Jan 1468 he was engaged in the negotiations for the marriage of the King's sister Margaret to Charles the Bold. 


During the short restoration of Henry VI in 1470, William was taken prisoner by Lancastrians and was in danger of being put to death. A letter written by John Paston III to his mother Margaret makes reference to the imprisonment of William, An extract from this letter, dated 12 Oct 1470, gives the following information:- "Tidings, the Earle of Worcester is like to die this day or tomorrow at the farthest. John Pilkington, Master W. Attcliff and Fowler are taken and in the castle of Pomfret, (Pontefract, Yorkshire) and are likely to die hastily, without they be dead." 

The earl of Worcester (John Tiptoft) was executed but the other three did not die as Paston had thought.  John Pilkington went on to fight and be knighted at Tewkesbury in 1471. Fowler, a London fishmonger, who had been J.P. and alderman of Oxford  Sheriff of Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire. And William survived, and became Master of Request and a royal councillor when Edward IV was restored.

In 1471, Dr William was employed in the negotiations with James III of Scotland. In Dec 1472 he went to Utrecht as Ambassador to the Hanse. In 1473 he was negotiating with Burgundy in Brussels. In Dec 1474 he went to treat with the Emperor Frederick for an alliance against Louis XI, and in Mar 1475 he was sent with Lord Dacre to Margaret, wife of the Duke of Burgundy, to seek her help in reminding the duke of his treaty obligations. The Duke at that time was laying siege to the town of Neuss. 

In July 1476 Dr William was ambassador to Christiern of Denmark. He retained his office of secretary till 1480 when a coadjutor was given him on account of his age; he died later the same year. As requested in his will he was buried in Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey. 

 1518 Obituary for another William Hatcliffe.

In 1518, a William Hateclyffe who served as Clerk of the Marshalcy of the Royal Household and Under Treasurer of Ireland, died. In 1497/8. He was married to Isabel Harvey - previously married to John Paston III's brother. 

William Hatteclyffe's brother John served under him in Ireland as Clerk of the Ordinance.  In this John Hatteclyffe's will he mentions his cousin Richard Thimelby. John and William's mother was Anne Thimelby, sister of Sir William Thimelby of Irnham, Lincolnshire. Her spouse was William Hatcliffe of Hatcliffe. (For further information about the Thimelby line contact Sheila Thimelby Smith @ <[email protected]>

In 1521 and 1525 another William Hatcliffe appears as Mayor of Grimsby. He also sat for the borough in Parliament in 1525 and 1529. 1545. 


William Hatclyf of Hatcliffe and Thoresway (d.1551) married Anne Skipwith, daughter of Sir William Skipwith of South Ormsby in 1545. He died six years later leaving three sons. The stone in the floor of the vestry of Hatcliffe church confirms this date and also shows the effigy of both William and his wife Anne, lying on the left side of her husband. William is clad in a complete suit of plate armour, with a sword, dagger and a collar of s-s-s-s about his neck. At his, feet is a group of four children in kneeling postures. At his lady's feet is a similar group. Over William's head is placed his coat of arms and over the head of Anne is the Skipwith coat of arms. Details are given on the arms' page. The effigy is in danger of decay and a restoration fund has been set up by ST Mary's Church, Hatcliffe. Anyone wishing to contribute should write to St Mary's Church Council.

When Sir William died his sons were very young. William, the heir, died aged 12 or 13 in 1558 or 1559, this left Thomas as the heir. Since Thomas was still a minor he was declared a ward of the Queen, and his estates were placed in the hands of his mother as guardian. In 1564, he matriculated at Cambridge as Thomas Hatlefe a pensioner from Jesus College. His brother George followed a year and a half later, also as a pensioner from Jesus. 

In 1567, Thomas went down from Cambridge and by the end of the year he  married Judith, Daughter of Sir Francis Ayscough [or askew, brother of Anne Askew the famous Protestant martyr, burnt 1546] of South Kelsey, Lincolnshire. Ayscough was one of the wealthiest magnates of the county. Thomas Hatcliffe's brother George married Judith's Ayscough's sister Elizabeth. 


In September 1568, in Sir Francis Ayscough's house, Thomas Hatcliffe's son and heir was born. He was christened William on September 6 at St Mary's Church, South Kelsey. Of this William much has been written. Dr. Leslie Hotson, in his book, "Mr. W.H.' has investigated the mystery of the W.H. mentioned in Thorpe's dedication to Shakespeare's sonnets and came to the conclusion that he was in fact William Hatcliffe son of Thomas and Judith Hatcliffe. 

Granted at birth with exceptional gifts of beauty, mind and character, William Hatcliffe was the heir of an ancient line of gentry with good family connections, his aunt being the daughter of the Earl of Lincoln, and Queen Elizabeth I's Lord Admiral and Lord Steward. 

As a fellow-commoner of Jesus College, Cambridge, William ranked with the nobility.  The curriculum offerred useful grounding for both pulpit and bar and on November 4 1586, at the age of 18 William was admitted to Gray's Inn. It was here that he supposedly met William Shakespeare - when he was elected Prince of Purpoole and presented one of the Gray's Inn comedies on January 16, 1587/8. 


Although William was the Hatcliffe heir, his expenses whilst at Gray's Inn were considerable and his father, Thomas, who had four other sons and two daughters to educate and provide for, was not able to help.  

 By this time many of William's peers in poorer finances had already made wealthy matches and it seems that in the winter of 1595/96, at around age 27,  Will's thoughts finally turned to shoes and rice and the pitter patter of tiny Hatcliffe feet. 


Will`s cousin - yet another William Hatcliffe - was Avener Royal, that is chief officer of King James`s Stables, in charge of provender. He was associated with a north country family by the name of Kay from Woodsome Hall near Huddersfield. At the time of our Will`s glory as Prince of Purpoole in 1587/88 one John Kay of Hackney, (formerly Avener royal and a member of the same family), had been one of the four clerks of the Green Cloth. Mr. Kay died in May 1589 - the year after the Armada, and it was within his family that William Hatcliffe found his wife, Dorothy. Eighteen year's old. They were married in 1595. 

Dorothy Kay was William's junior by nine years. When William had entered Gray`s Inn she had been a child of ten. We learn from her father John Kay`s will of 1589 that he left her his leases in the dwellings and grounds of his manor of Laleham together with £100 payable on her 21 birthday or her marriage. Dorothy Kay was clearly not the rich match Will needed. 

Even though the marriage was beset from the start with financial problems, there is nothing to suggest it was not a happy match. William cannot be fully blamed for the difficulties he got himself into, as he had been raised above his class and had learned to live on a scale too liberal for the size of his estate. 


In November 1595 William acknowledged a debt of 1,000 marks to his father, payable on Nov 30 1596. This was possibly a bond made by the father's payment of Will`s debt. On 8 Jan 1595/6  his father , in consideration of his marriage granted to Sir Thomas Grantham and George Hatcliffe the elder and Thomas Marsh, Esquire, the manor and rectory of West Ravendale (or Randall), adjoining Hatcliffe, in trust for the use of his son. 

Thomas also settled on his son the inheritance of his two adjoining manors of Hatcliff and Gunnerby with the proviso that on coming into possession after his death William was to pay out of his profits annuities of 20 marks each to his four younger brothers, Francis, George, Edward and Christopher. 

When we look at Will`s life it is significant that his father did give his son the manor of West Ravendale outright on his marriage, but made it out to a quartet of trustees. This was probably to William disposing of the property thought to be worth 200 pound a year ( a considerable sum in the 16th century). 

When Will finally became the owner of the Hatcliffe estates he was aged about 62, even then he had to wait a further two years before he was granted administration. 

From numerous Chancery proceedings in later years, it is clear that from the start Will proved incapable of running the estate and keeping out of debt. 

William and Dorothy had two daughters, Dorothy and Judith, before their son and surviving heir Thomas, who was baptized in St Mary`s Church, Hatcliffe 29 Jan 1605/6. 18 years after the sonnets had demanded that he beget a son. (If you believe Hotson's theory.) 

On 16 Sep 1606 Will`s sister Faith married Thomas Glapthorn of Whitlesea, Cambridgeshire. She was Glapthorn's third wife and their first surviving son, Henry baptized 28 July 1610, later became a minor Caroline dramatist. Faith's husband, Thomas, was however at a later date to take a hand in Will`s affairs with attempts to repair his ruinous estate. The results apparently satisfied neither man. Meanwhile William had lost both his mother, Judith Ayscough Hatcliffe (buried in Hatcliffe church 2 Nov 1604) and his mother-in-law Bridget Kay (at Hackney 2 May 1601. Of the parents only Thomas was now left. 


In April 1609 William went to London supposedly taking with him an unpublished manuscript of Shakespeare's Sonnets. He took them to Thorpe who nine years previously had published Marlow`s Lucan. William gave to Thorpe with the sonnets `A lovers Complaint`. Thorpe, highly gratified, offered to dedicate the book to William, but as a former friend of Shakespeare William did not want to appear as if he was a climber on, so a more discreet way was found by hiding the name amongst the full dedication. This is the theory put forward by Dr. Leslie Hotson in his book `Mr. W.H.` Before the sonnets were published with the dedication William`s father Thomas Hatcliffe had died. 


It was another two years before William gained administration of the estate, which included the manors of Hatcliffe, Gunnerby and West Ravendale. Each manor was held to yield 200 pounds a year, 600 in all. Out of this came the annuities of his four brothers as stated in their fathers will. This came to 50 pounds, so out of the estate William could expect a yield of 550 pounds. Not too shabby a sum in those days. Almost at once he sold the manors of Hatcliffe and Gunnerby to the Pierrepoints of Nottinghamshire in order to raise a large sum of money. He sold to Lady Francis Pierrpoint and her son Robert ( later Earl of Kingston) on the condition that he, William could stay on as the tenant at a low rent of 300 pound a year. Even this he failed to pay and the Pierrepoints re-entered the manor. The Pierrepoints were in fact related to William and this connection is made on the Hatcliffe Family Chronicles CD-see below for details.

William Hatcliffe sank deeper and deeper into debt, four of his bonds of this time are recorded as follows, 1611, 29 June, to Francis Pierrpoint and Christopher Molneux of Gray`s Inn esquire 1200 pounds, 1612, 31 March to Francis Barne of Woolwich Kent, esquire 800 pounds, 1612/3 27 Feb to Philip Gerard of Gray`s Inn, esquire, 1000 pounds and 1613 27 May, to the same and Henry Travers of London gent, 4000 pounds. An enormous amount of money in those days!

Two more years and things were worse. William himself mentions more debts due to George Arlington and others totalling 1489 pounds. In 1616 brother in law Thomas Glapthorn, his sister Faith`s husband, came to his aid  and in return for a seven year lease of West Ravendale undertook to pay off the debt of 1489 pounds. Even this was not enough, and later in 1616, to clear the debt to the Pierrepoints, Glapthorn put in 1000 pounds with which William was expected not only to satisfy them, but also to secure Glapthorn a new lease of the two manors for 30 years at a rent of 400 pounds a year. This deal appears to have gone through although Glapthorne protested that his dealings with his brother-in-law had ruined him, whilst on the other hand William complained that he had been cheated and robbed. 

By the end of 1616 two-thirds of William`s inheritance was gone, lost to the Hatcliffe family for ever. 


In 1629, William was 61 years old. He had outlived Shakespeare by 13 years. He was still famous for his looks and charm but was in extreme danger of losing, by suit in Chancery, the last of his property he could leave his son. A last great effort was needed. Once again his enduring charm came to the rescue. He obtained a letter from Lord Conway, President of the council, begging the Lord Keeper ( Lord Coventry, the Chancery Judge) to show him favour. 

William did not obtain the letter himself but through a Lincolnshire contemporary, Sir William Pelham, who had been at Gray`s Inn with him.  Pelham`s heir, young Sir William, had married Francis, daughter of Lord Conway and it was to lady Frances Conway that William wrote laying all his misfortunes before her. She was so moved that she wrote to her powerful father asking him to intercede. 

Perhaps William's letter did have some effect as he was not ousted from West Ravendale manor and lived out his remaining years there. 

By the time William made his last will and testatment his mind must have been wandering as he mentioned two unmarried daughters who would have been about 30 years-old at the time. Of his son and heir, Thomas who survived him 21 years, nothing appears in the will. His brother Francis, present at the time, is not mentioned either. William left what little there was in the care of his wife Dorothy. 

As requested in his last instructions William Hatcliffe esq. was not buried in the ancestral church at Hatcliffe but was laid to rest in the priory chapel of his own manor of West Ravendale. 

Alas poor Will! All that remains of his resting place are a few ruined walls on the land of Priory Farm. 


In 1600 Vincent , the last notable Hatcliffe, was born to George Hatcliffe and Frances Ayscough. He was nephew to William Hatcliffe esq.

Whilst a student at Cambridge Vincent was converted to the Roman Catholic faith and in 1626 he entered the society of Jesus and assumed, for some unknown reason, the name of John Spencer. 

During his life he was an 'able controversialist' and wrote a number of books on the subject.  He appears to have outlived most of his line.

What happened after William Hatcliffe esq. lost the family fortune? Ay, there's the rub!...  For a more detailed account of the Hatclifffe Family fortunes from the Norman Invasion in 1066, up until the 21st century, you will need to consult the Hatcliffe Family Chronicles on CD.

We would like to thank Ron Smith of Lincolnshire for supplying most of the details of the Hatcliffe family history outlined above.

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