By Jared L. Olar
October 2007-October 2020
The English surname of "Spencer" derives from the Latin word dispensator, which means a storekeeper or shopkeeper. In medieval times, a feudal lord would employ a dispensator to have charge of his possessions and to oversee distribution and sale of supplies to the serfs, peasants, and tenant farmers who worked his land. In essence, a dispensator was something like a steward. This Latin term gave rise to the occupational family names of "Dispenser," "Spencer," "Spenser," "Spence," "Spens," "Spender," etc. Since there must have been thousands of dispensatori, there are naturally a large number of unrelated Spencer families. Even though he was the servant of a feudal lord or a king, a dispensator often himself would be of noble or knightly rank. The two best known medieval English families bearing a form of this surname were the Despensers, Earls of Winchester, and the Spencers of Althorp, Northamptonshire, ancestors of the present Earls Spencer, who were the family of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, formerly known as Lady Diana Spencer. The Earls Spencer are also closely related to the Spencer-Churchill family, which includes the famous British Prime Minister Sir Winston Spencer-Churchill. During the Renaissance, an unscrupulous herald manufactured a spurious genealogy tracing the Spencers of Althorp back to the Despensers of Winchester, but that fictitious genealogy was long ago debunked -- there is no proof nor any reason to believe that the Spencers of Althorp had anything to do with the old Earls of Winchester.
In the United States, a very large number of Spencers are descendants of "the Four Spencer Brothers" -- William Spencer (1601-1640), Thomas Spencer (1607-1687), Michael Spencer (1611-1653), and GERARD SPENCER (1614-1685), sons of Gerard Spencer and Alice Whitbred. The Four Spencer Brothers belonged to an old English family that came from Stotfold and Edworth in Bedfordshire, England, whose y-DNA haplogroup has been identified as E1b1b1 (E-M35 or E-L117). The brothers and a sister left England in the 1600s and settled in New England. Our own Spencer family is descended from Gerard, youngest of the Four Spencer Brothers, and a 23andMe DNA test has found that my father-in-law Roy Eldon Spencer's paternal haplogroup is E-V13, which is equivalent to E-M35 and thus matches the Four Spencer Brothers modal. The haplogroup E1b1b1 in England evidently predates the Anglo-Saxon Invasion of Britain and would thus be of Celtic or Romano-Briton origin rather than Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian origin. Donald Lines Jacobus wrote the landmark study on this family, "The Four Spencer Brothers -- Their Ancestors and Descendants," (The American Genealogist, 27:79-87, April 1951). A subsequent study on our particular branch of the Spencers was prepared by George E. McCracken, entitled "Spencers in Wyoming Valley 1772-1830" (The American Genealogist 43:139-145, July 1967), while our lineage in Connecticut and Pennsylvania was presented in detail in Clark's 1965 Unplaced and Shoemaker Spencers, edited and published in 1987 by the Spencer Family Association. The family history of our Spencers is also presented on the late George R. Spencer's genealogical website and the Long Island Surnames website. Christopher Kile's former database also included the genealogy of our Spencers, though with various omissions and errors. One of the most recent and best studies of the families of the Four Spencer Brothers is The Spencers of the Great Migration" (Gateway Press, Baltimore, 1997), by Jack Taif Spencer and Edith Woolley Spencer. The following excerpt from their work sums up the current state of genealogical studies of our Spencers' English ancestry:
"Many genealogists in both England and America have attempted in recent years to resolve the lineage of the "The Four Spencer Brothers" (William, Thomas, Michael, Gerard) and their sister (Elizabeth) who came to New England about 1630 from Stotfold, Bedfordshire, England. These five siblings were the ancestors of thousands of Spencers who now reside in the United States. Most of the research which has focused on their ancestry in England began in the early years of the twentieth century and has continued up to the present day (1996). Despite the importance of the subject, only a half dozen or fewer writers have made important contributions to the published literature. Probably the most significant milestones have been the writings of Vicar John Holding in 1903, Henry F. Waters in 1907, and Donald Lines Jacobus in the mid-1950s. A third contribution of an unpublished nature has been the research of Zena Collier of Pulloxhill, Bedfordshire, who commencing in 1989 under the auspices of 'The Spencer Historical and Genealogical Society of America,' has delved into many resources in Bedfordshire and adjacent counties which were hitherto unknown to the American workers. . . ."
"At the outset we must caution that despite the valiant efforts of the above named authors, a final solution to the complete lineage of the Five Spencer Siblings has yet to be achieved. It is true that we are on sound ground for about four generations leading back from the Five Siblings. However, from the fifth generation back in time the trail becomes somewhat uncertain. Many theories have been advanced regarding those earliest generations but some questions still remain. . . ."
This ongoing research on the ancestry of the Four Spencer Brothers and other American Spencer families has indicated that the Spencers of Stotfold and Edworth likely originated from or were closely related to the Spencers of Eton-Socun and the Spencers of South Mylles in Bedfordshire, who in turn were branches of the Spencers of Cople in Bedfordshire. The Spencers of Cople were the most prominent of the Spencer families of Bedfordshire, and were related to the aristocratic family of the Earls Spencer, the Spencers of Althorp, Northamptonshire, with whom they shared a coat of arms. The precise details of their kinship are still uncertain, but the common origin of the Spencers of Cople and the Spencers of Althorp is certain. Consequently, there is a possibility that our Spencer family is very distantly related in the male line to the Spencers of Althorp (which means the late Diana Spencer, de facto Princess of Wales, was a distant cousin). The heraldic evidence illustrating the cousinship of the Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire Spencers was briefly discussed by Rev. Holding in his 1903 study as follows:
"One thing, however, is certain; the Bedfordshire Spencers were allied to those of Northamptonshire, but where the point of junction lies it is impossible for us to say, as we have no materials at our disposal to enable us to decide. They must have satisfied the Heralds in their visitations in 1566, 1634, and 1663 that they were of the same family, otherwise they would not have been allowed to bear the same coat of arms and crest, as they did with one slight difference only, that whereas on the bend sable of the Northampton arms there are three escallops (shells), on the Bedfordshire shield there are three fleurs-de-lis. The crest is exactly the same -- a griffin's head between two wings expanded emerging out of a mural crown."
Shown at left are the arms of Spencer of Althorp, Northamptonshire, and at right are the arms of Spencer of Cople, Bedfordshire, junior cousins of the Northamptonshire family.
The 1572 Visitation of Hertfordshire records the coat armor of Spencer of St. Albans as:
"ARMS -- Quarterly Or and Gules, in the second and third quarters a fret of the first, over all a bend Sable charged with three fleurs-d-lis Argent. CREST -- Out of a ducal coronet Argent, gemmed Gules, a demi-griffin of the first, beaked and eared of the second, collared per pale of the second and Or, winged of the third, on each wing and on the breasts fleur-de-lis Sable."
In comparison, the 1634 Visitation of Bedfordshire recorded the arms of our ancestral family, Spencer of South Mylls, as:
"ARMS -- Quarterly or and gules, in the second and third quarters a fret of the first, on a bend sable three fleurs-de-lys argent. CREST -- Out of a mural crown per pale argent and gules, a griffin's head, collared or, beaked gules, between two wings expanded, charged on the breast and on each wing with a fleur-de-lys sable, all counterchanged."
The family of Spencer of Cople, of whom Spencer of South Mylls was a cadet, bore the following coat armor, as recorded in the 1566 and 1634 Visitations of Bedfordshire:
"1566 ARMS -- Quarterly Or and gules, in the second and third quarters a fret or; on a bend sable three fleurs-de-lis argent. 1634 ARMS -- Quarterly - 1, Quarterly or and gules, in the second and third quarters a fret of the first, on a bend sable three fleurs-de-lys, Spencer; 2, Argent, three pickaxes sable, Peck; 3, Sable, two lions passant or, Arnold; e, blank. CREST -- Out of a ducal coronet gules a griffin's head argent, collared or, between two wings expanded of the third, charged on the breast and on each wing with a fleur-de-lys sable, and on the neck a crescent."
Jacobus introduced his 1951 landmark study of our family with these comments on what then could be certainly known of the English ancestry of our Spencers:
"In 1903 the Rev. John Holding, M.A., then Vicar of Stotfold, co. Bedford, England, published The Spencers of Bedfordshire. Despite a lack of formal arrangement, the book is a mine of information. The most prominent family of the Spencer name in Bedfordshire had their seat at Cople in the 16th and 17th centuries, and a good account is given of this family, tracing it back to one Thomas Spencer who was living at Eton in 1433. Several other groups of Spencers in various parishes and towns are included, but their connection, if any, with the Spencers of Cople does not appear. Herein, so far as we know, the ancestry of William, Thomas, Michael and Gerard Spencer is for the first time set forth, though some years earlier the noted antiquary, Henry F. Waters, had found mention of the four brothers in the will of their London uncle Richard Spencer, and had published this in the New England Hist. and Gen. Register and in 1901 included it in his Genealogical Gleanings in England. In recent years the parish registers of Stotfold and Edworth have been included by F. G. Emmison in his Bedfordshire Parish Registers Series. Careful comparison has been made between these and the entries as printed by the Rev. Mr. Holding, resulting in some corrections and in the addition of two or three important entries. . . . It is not felt that Mr. Holding established the parentage or origin of John Spencer, great-grandfather of the four emigrant brothers, hence we start our account with him."
Even today we can only speculate on the identity of John Spencer's father. More recently, Spencer genealogist Robert Spencer proposed an identification of John's grandparents in a series of posts to the soc.genealogy.medieval newsgroup from 27 April to 2 May 2014, entitled "The 7 John Spencers of Blunham, Bedfordshire -- A most difficult de-tangling!" and "Robert Spencer of Cople and/or Biggleswade Hundred." However, a 5 June 2015 post to soc.genealogy.medieval by Dave Ebel mercilessly and conclusively demonstrates that Robert Spencer's identification of John's grandparents was erroneous. Thus, although Robert Spencer's 2014 posts include much helpful information on and clarification of the various John Spencers living in Bedfordshire during the 1500s and late 1400s, his key theory that our ancestor John Spencer of Edworth was a grandson of Andrew Spencer of Eton-Socun, born circa 1446, can no longer be sustained. A home to Spencer families since the Middle Ages, the village of Eton-Socun or Eaton-Socun, today spelled Eaton-Socon and located in County Bedford on the old Great North Road about midway between Bedford and Cambridge, is mentioned in the Domesday Book as "Eaton." In the 1200s, Eaton became a "soke," that is, a village that governed its own affairs independently of the local Hundred Court -- hence the name Eaton-Socon.
Shown at left are the "Castle Hills" at Eaton Socon, Bedfordshire, where a medieval Anglo-Norman stronghold formerly stood. At right is St. Mary the Virgin Church in Eaton Socon. The church as it exists today dates from circa 1400, though parts of Eaton Socon's earlier church were incorporated into the later structure.
Rev. Holding in 1903 proposed that the Spencers of Eaton-Socun may have been descendants of Thomas Spencer, born circa 1378, younger son of Henry Spencer of Badby and his wife Isabel Lincoln. Spencer genealogist Robert Spencer, however, has proposed that Andrew Spencer of Eton-Socun, born circa 1446, was a descendant of the medieval Spencers of Biggleswade Hundred in Bedfordshire. Be that as it may, thanks to Dave Ebel we now know that, although Andrew did have a son named John, that John died before 1518 and therefore could not be the same as the John Spencer who died in 1534, as Robert Spencer had mistakenly concluded. Therefore, Andrew Spencer was not the grandfather of John Spencer of Edworth from whom our Spencers are descended.
The following historical account of our Spencer lineage extends over a period of 15 proven generations and an additional five hypothetical generations, beginning in the 1300s in Northamptonshire, England, and coming down to the present day in the American Midwest. Part One of this study covers the early generations in England, up to the time when the Four Spencer Brothers emigrated to the New World.
Outline of our Spencer lineage
1. Henry Spencer of Badby, Northamptonshire, m. Isabel Lincoln | 2. Thomas Spencer of Eaton-Socon | 3. John Spencer | 4. John Spencer Sr. of South Mylls, Blunham | 5. John Spencer Jr. of Kempston (c.1485-1534), possibly father of: | ? 6. John Spencer of Edworth (c.1505-1558), m. Ann Merrill (c.1505-1560) | 7. Michael Spencer (c.1533-c.1600) m2. Elizabeth (c.1540-1599) | 8. Gerard Spencer (1576-bef. 1625) m. Alice Whitbread | 9. Ensign Gerard Spencer (1614-1685) m1. [??] Hannah or Grace? | 10. William Spencer (c.1656-1730) m. Margaret Bates (1664-1736) | 11. Joseph Spencer (1680/1-1714) m. Hannah Crane (1702-1780) | 12. Joseph Spencer (1712/13-1747) m. Rachel Hungerford (1722-aft. 1754) | 13. Joseph Spencer (1739-c.1825) m. Mary Jerome (c.1739-c.1825) | 14. Daniel Spencer (1761-c.1855) m. possibly (NN) Kingsley | 15. Orin Spencer (1801-1872) m. Anna Amey (1801-1871) | 16. John Washington Spencer (1832-1909) m. Irene M. Hall (1840-1905) | 17. William Penn Spencer (1861-1934) m. Eva Underwood (1866-1943) | 18. John Howard Spencer (1904-1948) m. Helen Elizabeth Smith (1908-2000) | 19. Roy Eldon Spencer (1940- ) m. Carolyn Jean Riggs (1949- ) | 20. Christina Carlene Spencer (1972- ) m. Jared Linn Olar (1968- )
1. HENRY SPENCER of Badby, Northamptonshire, traditional ancestor of the Spencers of Althorp in Northamptonshire and the Spencers of Cople and the Spencers of South Mylls in Bedfordshire. Henry's wife is traditionally identified as ISABEL LINCOLN, by whom he is said to have had two sons, John and Thomas. The elder son John is identified as the ancestor of the Spencers of Althorp.
-- JOHN SPENCER, of Hodnell, Warwickshire, born circa 1375. 2. THOMAS SPENCER, of Eaton-Socon, Bedfordshire, born circa 1378.
2. THOMAS SPENCER, younger son of Henry and Isabel Spencer, born circa 1378. Thomas was living at Eaton-Socon in Bedfordshire, England, in 1433. He is traditionally stated to be the ancestor of the Spencers of Cople and the Spencers of South Mylls in Bedfordshire. Rev. John Holding found a Spencer pedigree in a copy of Phillipps MS 10376 in the British Museum which shows Thomas being succeeded by his son John.
3. JOHN SPENCER
3. JOHN SPENCER, son of Thomas Spencer of Eaton-Socon. The Spencer pedigree in Phillipps MS 10376 shows this John Spencer as the next generation in the pedigree of the Spencers of Cople and the Spencers of South Mylls in Bedfordshire. The same pedigree shows this John as the father of Robert Spencer of Cople, John Spencer of South Mylls, Henry Spencer, and Thomas Spencer.
-- ROBERT SPENCER, of Cople, married Anne Pecke. 4. JOHN SPENCER SR., of South Mylls. -- HENRY SPENCER -- THOMAS SPENCER
4. JOHN SPENCER SR., son of John Spencer of Eaton-Socon, Bedfordshire. The Spencer pedigree in Phillipps MS 10376 shows this John Spencer as the second son of John Spencer of Eaton-Socon, and designates him "of South Mylls," and says he was the father of "John Spencer of Kempston." John Spencer Sr. appears in various documents as "of Eaton Socun and Blunham," South Mylls, County Bedford (Convocation Lists, L. and P. Hen. VIII. iv. 6047, pages 596 and 597). The Phillipps MS 10376 pedigree is supported by a 1525 litigation case found by Spencer genealogist Robert Spencer which states "John Sr." was of Blunham, South Mylls, Bedfordshire, and "John Jr." of Kempston, Bedfordshire -- the two are named in the case as plaintiffs against three gentleman of Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire for monies owed them.
5. JOHN SPENCER JR., of Kempston, born circa 1485.
5. JOHN SPENCER JR., of Kempston, Bedfordshire, England, son of John Spencer of South Mylls, born circa 1485 in Bedfordshire, England, died 1534 in Bedfordshire. It is possible that John Jr. is the father of our ancestor John Spencer of Edworth -- "although proof, and indeed evidence of any sort, is lacking," says Spencer genealogist Dave Ebel. John Spencer of Kempston is named as one of the 12 feoffees of the 1529 will of his first cousin John Spencer of Pavenham, and John Jr.'s year of birth is estimated from the average age of other 11 feoffees mentioned in this will and other wills of that time and place. Spencer genealogist Robert Spencer had mistakenly identified this John with the same-named son of Andrew Spencer of Eton-Socun. However, Dave Ebel has shown that Andrew Spencer's son John died prior to 1518 and had no son, and therefore could not be the father of our ancestor John Spencer of Edworth. Rev. John Holding had found a Spencer pedigree in a copy of Phillipps MS 10376 in the British Museum which shows John Spencer of South Mylls (brother of Robert Spencer of Cople) as father of John Spencer of Kempston. Holding's pedigree is supported by a 1525 litigation case found by Spencer genealogist Robert Spencer which states "John Sr." was of Blunham, South Mylls, Bedfordshire, and "John Jr." of Kempston, Bedfordshire -- the two are named in the case as plaintiffs against three gentleman of Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire for monies owed them.
Shown at left is the Rivel Ivel near the village of Blunham in Bedfordshire. At right is All Saints Church in Kempston, Bedfordshire. Originally built in the 1100s, the church was extensively rebuilt and expanded in the 1400s and later -- the original church tower remains.
Later in life, John Sr. is thought to have been of Chicksands, Bedfordshire, where it is thought he was Catholic Prior of Chicksands as early as 1525, being noted in other sources as being Prior in 1526 and in early 1534, the year he died. The Priory of Chicksands had been founded circa 1150 for the Gilbertine Order by Rohese and her husband Payn de Beauchamp, baron of Bedford, during the lifetime of the order's founder St. Gilbert de Sempringham. After John's death, his probable son RICHARD, a member of the Gilbertine Order, was chosen as Prior of Chicksand.
John Sr.'s wife is currently unknown. Earlier Spencer genealogies have been confused about the John Spencers living in Bedfordshire at this period. Thus, some genealogists have garbled accounts of John Spencer of Pavenham (of the Spencers of Cople) who died 16 Jan. 1532, and his kinsman John Spencer of South Mylls whose will was proved in 1568. Spencer genealogist Robert Spencer has argued that there were two John Spencers in South Mylls, one who had a second wife named Christian Baker and another John whose wife was Etheldreda Baker (sic). However, Dave Ebel has conclusively demonstrated that the pedigrees in the old Visitations are consistent with and supported by our available primary sources. Thus, it is now clear that the John Spencer of South Mylls whose will was proved in 1568 had two wives, the first named Christian Baker and the second named Etheldreda Coker (not Baker), widow of Richard Watkins Vaughn, M.P. Neither John Spencer of Pavenham (died 1532) nor John Spencer of South Mylls (died 1568) are John Spencer of Blunham, South Mylls, or John Spencer of Kempston (i.e., our ancestors). Thus, we must be careful to distinguish our John Spencer Sr. from his apparent kinsman John who married Christian Baker and Etheldreda Coker.
Of the probable children of our John Sr., the elder son Richard Spencer, Prior of Chicksands, had a son named John Spencer who appears in 1567 holding the Manor of Mardley, Hertfordshire. This John married in 1586 to Joan Burton, niece of Margaret Burton, Prioress of Chicksands on 22 Oct. 1538 when it was confiscated by Henry VIII during the violent suppression of the Catholic religious orders and the destruction of the monasteries. (See the Convocation Lists, L. and P. Hen. VIII. iv. 6047, pages and 597 and 598.) Spencer genealogist Robert Spencer also notes, "An ancestor John Burton was also a Prior of Chicksands. Mardley Manor was previously owned by the Forster family in 1554, who has had other dealings with the Spencer family."
Shown is Chicksands Priory in Bedfordshire, where John Spencer Sr.'s son Richard served as Prior. With the dissolution of Chicksands Priory in 1538 the sisters and canons were pensioned, and the Priory became the family seat of the Osborn family in 1576. In subsequent centuries the Osborns made a great many renovations and additions to the Priory, and only one of the original cloisters still exists today. After the Osborns sold Chicksands Priory in 1936, it was used as a Royal Air Force station, and currently serves as a Ministry of Defense intelligence training center.
The possible children of John Spencer Sr. were:
-- RICHARD SPENCER, born circa 1503 6. JOHN SPENCER, born circa 1505.
6. JOHN SPENCER, possibly a younger son of John Spencer of Kempston, born in England circa 1505; died in early June 1558; buried at Edworth, Bedfordshire, England, on 9 June 1558. As mentioned above, a 1525 litigation case states "John Sr." was of Blunham, South Mylls, Bedfordshire, and "John Jr." was of Kempston, Bedfordshire -- they are named in the case as plaintiffs against three gentleman of Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire for monies owed them. "John Spencer of Kempston" is also named in the probated will of John Spencer of Pavenham who married Ann Arnolds and Christian Baker (PROB 11/50/372 source: PROB 11 Prerogative Court of Canterbury and related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers).
John Spencer of Edworth was called "senior" at his burial, indicating that he was thereby distinguished from his son of the same name. John's wife was named ANN MERRILL, born perhaps in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, died in mid-June 1560, buried at Edworth on 16 June 1560. In the 1990s, certain genealogists proposed that Ann might have been the same person as "Annis Cobb" (Agnes), born circa 1507, mentioned in the 1564 Bedfordshire Visitation under the Cobbe Family as the wife of Robert Meryell. However, in a 9 April 2015 post to the soc.genealogy.medieval newsgroup, Dave Ebel showed that Annis/Agnes Cobb was still surnamed "Merryell" in her brother William Cobbe's 1558 will and therefore could never have married John Spencer. Ebel has further demonstrated, by a comparison of the 12 Oct. 1558 will of John Merrill, husbandman of Biggleswade, with the 13 June 1560 will of John Spencer's widow Ann, that Ann was a sister of John Merrill, and that they also had brothers named Edward Merrill of Stratton and Nicholas Merrill (see below).
John and Ann Spencer lived from the time of King Henry VII until the end of the reign of Queen Mary I and the beginning of the reign of the usurpress Elizabeth Boleyn. Thus, their lives coincided with the English Reformation, a period when England saw great religious, political, and cultural upheaval and disorder as the royal government violently imposed Protestantism on the populace and suppressed the old Catholic faith, apart from the brief period under Mary I when Catholicism was again made legal and Protestantism was coercively suppressed. The upheaval of those days very likely had a direct influence on John Spencer, for Rev. Holding showed that our John was very probably the John Spencer of St. Albans who was one of the ten Burgesses named by King Edward VI in his 12 May 1553 Charter of St. Albans. Holding noted that the King's advisors would not appoint anyone to be a chief burgess or alderman unless they were of mature age, and so the John Spencer of St. Albans in 1553 is the right age to be John Spencer of Edworth, who must have been born by circa 1510, given the known ages of his children. An appointment as burgess was for life, and if the office were vacated by reason of death, leaving town, or removal from office, a new burgess was to be appointed within eight days by the mayor and other burgesses. Holding examined the parish registers of St. Albans, which begin in 1558, and found that while most of John Spencer's colleagues named in the 1553 charter are later found in the burial register, John Spencer is not. Holding concludes that he must have left shortly after 1553. Given the fact that John and his wife Ann were Protestants, it is probable that John left St. Albans during the reign of Queen Mary I, during whose reign the Catholic Faith had been fully restored in St. Albans.
Spencer genealogist Robert Spencer says John is probably the John Spencer who after the destruction of the lesser monasteries in 1536 leased the woods of Clopham Priory, rented in Milton Harnes and Thurley (Thurleigh), and in the parish of Clopham, the rectory of Clopham. At the time of the monasteries' destruction, their property in Milton and Thurleigh was valued at £1 17s. 10d. per annum, which was at one time part of the Priory of Caldwell in Blunham, Bedfordshire, as stated in 36 Henry VIII (22 April 1544-22 April 1545) which says it was "rated for John Spencer" (See "Reports and Commissioners" (1848), Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command, Volume 38). After Henry VIII seized this land, he granted it along with other lands to Henry Audely and John Maynard. (See "Parishes: Milton Ernest," in A History of the County of Bedford, volume 3 (1912), pages 143-149. L. and P. Hen. VIII, xx (1), g. 465)
Sometime after John Spencer's Clopham Priory lease expired, he moved to Edworth, Bedfordshire, where he entered into a copyhold lease agreement for land circa 1554. Holding's 1903 Spencers of Bedfordshire indicates that John Spencer occupied a farm of about 600 acres at Edworth, as lessee of Robert Parrys of Ellington, who was then lord of the manor and was married to John's kinswoman Elizabeth Spencer, daughter of Thomas Spencer of Cople. Of the Edworth farm, Holding says, "Edworth is a parish on the borders of Hertfordshire, and is situated half way between Baldock and Biggleswade. There have always been two large farms in Edworth, comprising really the whole land in the parish, with the exception of about 8 acres glebeland attached to the rectory, giving a total of about 1122 acres . . . So that the Spencer farm would cover about 600 acres in extent, a large farm even at that present time, and gave employment to half the laboring poor of the place. The Hall, where the Spencers resided, is still standing, although much modernized. It is now occupied by a gentleman named 'Smyth'."
A scene of farmland at Edworth in Bedfordshire, where John Spencer leased and worked 600 acres of land in the mid-1500s.
In showing that John Spencer of Edworth was very probably the burgess John Spencer of St Albans, Rev. Holding also noted the baptism at Edworth on 21 May 1565 of a certain Richard Spencer, son of William "the traveler" Spencer. Holding notes that while "travelers" (visitors, temporary residents) frequently occur in the burial registers, they rarely occur in the baptism registers. Holding wrote, "No child could be baptised without properly credited sponsors to answer in the child's name and on its behalf, so that an absolute stranger would find himself in a difficulty about obtaining the god-parents necessary for the occasion." Holding suggests that William Spencer must have known the Spencers of Edworth, and further claims that William traveler was none other than the William Spencer of St. Albans who had many children baptised there and later became a burgess and mayor of St. Albans. Holding believed William was probably an otherwise unrecorded son of John and Ann Spencer, but all that can be safely said is that William was closely related to John.
The parish record of the burial of "Ann Spencer, widow" describes her as "the good hospitality keeper; and she did give to the towneship of Edworth ii of her best bease [beasts] to be lett to ii pore folks in the towns for iii s. a cow & the parson & churchwarden to have the letting of them & the distributing of the money to the poor & to se the stock maintained etch of them to have iii d. of the vi s. for the panes to se this truly done acording to her last will." Ann's will, dated 13 June 1560, proved 21 April 1561, calls her "Widow, in Edworth, Beds.," and names her son Gerard (age 17); son Michael, to have the chest that was his brother John's; John Spencer, son Michael's child, to have 20 marks; Elisabeth Lymer, to have 4 marks at marriage; Alice Aystin, to have a calf; servants; for the mending of "London Brygge waye," 10 s.; brother Edward's children, to have the 1 mark that he borrowed of her, and the barley he gave her sons to his children; Nicholas Merryll and John Merryll his brother, to have the barley their father gave her sons; and the poor of Edworth, to have the gift already mentioned. Michael Spencer was a witness.
Ann's son John mentioned in her will had died a few months before his mother. The Edworth parish register records John's burial on 21 April 1560 as "son of Ann Spencer, widow." As for Ann's son Gerard, he was born about 1543 and died at Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, about 1577. Gerard married at Edworth on 30 Jul 1568 to Ellen Whyston. His will, dated 8 July 1576 and proved 20 May 1577, calls him "of Biggleswade, yeoman," and names son Richard, under 21 (to have 60 marks); daughters Agnes and Johan Spencer (under age) and child unborn, to have 40 marks apiece at 18 years; wife Elen; god-daughter Johan Spencer, my brother's daughter (to have 1 mark); brother Michael Spencer (to have 5 marks); and wife Helen and brother Michael, executors.
Commenting on Ann's will in his 1903 Spencers of Bedfordshire, Holding says, "It is interesting as showing the position in life she occupied, and her kindly, thoughtful nature. The enumeration of stock and chattels, and her bequests certainly show that the family was at least that of a prosperous gentleman," but adds, "She nowhere makes mention of land or tenements belonging to her. There is only the lease of the farm which evidently refers to the ones of which she was then the tenant, and which is handed on to her oldest son Michael."
On the other hand, from the provisions of Ann's will, Jacobus in 1951 made the following inferences:
"From this will we gain the impression that our Spencer family at that period was of the yeoman class, and somewhat better off than the average village family of the time and place. Whether they were in origin a younger branch of an older gentry family, or a more humble clan which by industry and good fortune had improved its lot, we are not in a position to affirm. It would be necessary to prove the parentage and more remote ancestry of John Spencer, Sr., by documentary evidence, before claiming any specific connection with any other Spencer family in England."
Jacobus added, "From the terms of the will, it would seem that Anne's brother was Edward Merryll or Merrill, and that this was her maiden name. A search of Merrill wills might confirm this conjecture." Dave Ebel recently compared Ann Spencer's will with that of John Merrill of Biggleswade, and thus determined that Ann was indeed a sister of Edward Merrill, John Merrill, and Nicholas Merrill. Ebel wrote:
"The will of John Merell, husbandman of Biggleswade, made 12 Oct. 1558, proved 5 Dec. 1558, mentions his brother Edward Merell of Stratton; his sons Nicholas and John (compare with Ann Spencer's 1560 will), and just to confirm the hypothesis, 'To his brother Spenser's children at Edworth a quarter of barley each,' which ties in with Anne's will that mentions 'Nicholas Merryll and John Merryll his brother, to have the barley their father gave her sons.'"
In Holding's The Spencers of Bedfordshire, John Spencer is identified as the John Spencer who is named among the chief burgesses or aldermen of St. Albans in the charter that King Edward VI granted to St. Albans in 1553, but that identification may not be correct. Holding also identified our John Spencer as a son of John Spencer of South Mylles in Bedfordshire, who died at South Mylles on 5 Feb. 1532, one of the Spencers of Cople -- but that was in fact our John's kinsman, son of John Spencer and Ethelrede Baker, whom Holding had conflated with our John and with another, related John who married Christian Baker.
Shown at left is St. George's Church in Edworth, Bedfordshire, where John and Ann Spencer are buried. At right is the old rectory and the surrounding land at Edworth.
At the genealogical website of the late George R. Spencer, the following interesting note is found under the entry on John and Ann Spencer:
"In 1923, H.R. Spencer, author of The Spencers of East Haddam, visited Edworth. The old church is still standing, in the same shape as when John and Anne Spencer worshipped there. The old Baptismal font is still in use -- the same font at which the Spencer children were christened. The church register is still in a good state of preservation, and dates back several hundred years prior to the time when John and Anne Spencer resided there. Original entries show the dates of christening the Spencer children, and the date of the death of both John and Anne Spencer. There is nothing in the churchyard to indicate at what precise spot John and his wife are buried. On the interior wall of the church H.R. Spencer placed a brass tablet containing the words: In Memoriam John and Anne Spencer 1558-1560."
The known children of John and Ann Spencer were:
7. MICHAEL SPENCER, born probably 1530-1535 -- JOHN SPENCER, buried 21 April 1560. -- GERARD SPENCER, born circa 1543, married Ellen Whiston.
7. MICHAEL SPENCER, son of John and Ann Spencer, born probably 1530-1535 in Bedfordshire, England, living in 1599, date of death unknown, probably buried at Biggleswade, Bedfordshire. Michael is mentioned in the 1576 will of his younger brother Gerard as "my brother Michael Spencer," and Gerard appointed his own wife Helen (Ellen) and his brother Michael as executors of his will. Rev. Holding abstracted Gerard's will as follows:
"1576, July 8. Gerard Spencer, Biggleswade, c. Bedford, yeoman. To be buried in the Church or Churchyeard of Biggleswade, afsd. To Richard Spencer my son at 21. To Agnes and Johan Spencer, my daughters, and to the child of my wieff is now conceived with, &c., at 18. To Helen my wieff. To my goddaur Joana my brother's daur. To my brother Michael Spencer. To the poor of Biggleswade alsd. Helen my wife and brother Michael Spencer to be executors."
Rev. Holding also offered these additional remarks on Michael's brother Gerard:
"Gerard Spencer married Ellen Whyston as appears in the Edworth register, on 30 July 1568. According to his mother's will he was 17 years of age in 1560, and apparently her youngest son, so that at the date of his death he would be only 34. . . . Gerard Spencer seems to have thriven in his undertakings, for he was able to bequeath 60 pounds to his son and forty markes each of his daughters, which, at 13 shillings and four pence each, would be 53 pounds 6s. 8d. for the two; so that his personal estate would amount to something like 135 pounds, which is equal to about 1,500 pounds of our present money, not counting his 'substance and gooddes for the most part in other men's handes, as ...'"
Michael, eldest of the known children of John and Ann Spencer, married at least two times. He married first, at Edworth, Bedfordshire, on 20 Jan. 1555/6, to AGNES LIMER, died Feb. 1561/2, buried at Edworth on 23 Feb 1561/2. Michael married second circa 1563 to ELIZABETH, who was buried at Stotfold, Bedfordshire, on 18 Nov. 1599, as "wife of Michael Spencer," signifying that he was then alive. The late George Spencer's genealogical database shows Elizabeth's maiden name as "Collamore," but he showed no documentation to support that surname for her.
Jacobus in his 1951 study stated that "The removal of the family from Edworth to Stotfold occurred between 1571 and 1576." On this point, The Spencers of the Great Migration (1997) says:
"Holding calculated that the leasehold at Edworth would expire in the year 1575. Anne died in 1560, so apparently her son's operation of the farm was safe for another fifteen years. We know that Michael did serve out the remaining years of the lease, but by 1573 he had located at Stotfold, a short distance south of Edworth. Just what lease or ownership arrangements the Spencers had at Stotfold has not been revealed in the literature, but presumably it was another leasehold. Michael and his wife Elizabeth still had several small children at this stage and indeed their last three children (including Gerard, born at Stotfold). There was at least one other living son (Thomas, b. 1571), so it seems unlikely that Gerard (b. 1576) would have inherited a leasehold. In any event, Gerard and Alice Whitbread had all of their children born at Stotfold."
Shown at left is St. Mary the Virgin Church in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, first built in the 1100s and subsequently refurbished and expanded. At right is Stotfold Watermill on the Rivel Ivel, located at the site where a watermill has continually existed since the time of the Domesday Book.
In his 1951 study, Jacobus discussed the marriages and children of Michael Spencer as follows:
"The division of Michael's children between the two wives is somewhat different from what might be inferred from the Rev. Mr. Holding's book, because of the discovery of the burial of the first wife, Agnes, early in 1562. The name of the mother is not stated in the Edworth baptisms, but Elizabeth is stated as mother of the two children, Gerard and Richard, who were baptized at Stotfold. We therefore assume that Elizabeth was mother of the other children who were born after 1562 and before the birth of Gerard in 1576, though it remains possible that there was a second, unknown, wife between Agnes and Elizabeth."
Thus, the first three children of Michael were born at Edworth of his first wife Agnes. The last two of his children, and probably the rest of his children also, were born of his second wife Elizabeth. Michael's daughter Catherine, probably born of Elizabeth, was apparently the first of his children born at Stotfold. Jacobus said Michael's son Gerard was "the first of the children baptized at Stotfold," but he did not know Catherine's year of birth and listed her as older than Thomas who was born in 1571 in Edworth. Catherine married a man surnamed Bland and had two daughters, Sarah and Anne. In addition, either Catherine or another of Michael's daughters was mother of Elizabeth who married Edward Terry.
The known children of Michael Spencer are:
-- JOHN SPENCER, baptised 20 April 1557 at Edworth, Bedfordshire. -- MICHAEL SPENCER, baptised 27 May 1558 at Edworth, buried 15 April 1560. -- ANNE SPENCER, baptised 24 July 1560 at Edworth. -- JOAN SPENCER, baptised 21 Aug. 1564 at Edworth. -- ALICE SPENCER, baptised 30 Aug. 1566 at Edworth. -- THOMAS SPENCER, baptised 12 March 1571 at Edworth. -- CATHERINE SPENCER, born 1573 probably at Stotfold, married (NN) Bland. 8. GERARD SPENCER, baptised 20 May 1576 at Stotfold, Bedfordshire -- RICHARD SPENCER, baptised 9 July 1580 at Stotfold, died at the end of May or beginning of June 1646 in London.
8. GERARD SPENCER, son of Michael and Elizabeth Spencer, born May 1576 at Stotfold, Bedfordshire, England, baptised 20 May 1576 at Stotfold, died before 1625 in England. In his baptismal record, Gerard is called "Gerat," but his name is spelled "Gerard" at the baptisms of his own children. Gerard married at Upper Gravenhurst, County Bedford, on 10 Nov. 1600 to ALICE WHITBREAD (or "Whitbred"), born circa 1580 in Meppershall, Bedfordshire, England, died May 1646 in England, daughter of John and Eleanor (Hill) Whitbread of Upper Gravenhurst, Bedfordshire. Jacobus notes that Alice "belonged to a family of some prominence" while Spencers of the Great Migration comments, "The Whitbread family became famous in England as the founders of the Whitbread Brewery enterprises and which today has become so well known as the sponsors of the Whitbread round-the-world yachting races."
Gerard and Alice had nine children, all born and baptized at Stotfold in Bedfordshire. Some of them died young, including their son John, baptised 22 Jan. 1603/4 at Stotfold. Jacobus comments that John "almost certainly d. young or without issue before 1646, since neither he nor his heirs are named in the will of his uncle Richard which gave a large legacy to each of his three surviving brothers and the same amount to the children of his deceased brother William." At some point after the baptism of their youngest son on 25 April 1614, however, Gerard and his family left Stotfold. As Jacobus wrote in his 1951 study on the Four Spencer Brothers:
"It seems quite possible that Gerard and his family moved from Stotfold some years before the emigration of his sons to New England; perhaps to London, where his brother Richard had become a prosperous haberdasher."
More recent studies have looked into the question of where Gerard and Alice and their children lived after leaving Stotfold but before the Four Spencer Brothers and their sister went to America. Unfortunately, that question remains unresolved, as we see in this discussion from Spencers of the Great Migration:
"Although the towns of Edworth and Stotfold in Bedfordshire played pre-eminent roles in the early history of the Spencer Siblings, there apparently was a change in location by the family of Gerard Spencer and Alice (Whitbread) Spencer before their children went to America about 1630. One writer (L.E. DeForest [Moore and Allied Families," 1938]) suggested the family may have removed to co. Essex where there was a focus of leaders in the Puritan movement."
"Braintree was believed to be the new location of the Spencers. In 1993, the authors of this article sponsored a research study in the areas in and around Braintree and Chelmsford to ascertain if there was any trace of Gerard and Alice Spencer and/or their children. All records pertaining to property deeds, probate records, marriages and births, were carefully explored by Adam Smith, a local historian well acquainted with the vital records in co. Essex. No trace of any kind could be found of this particular Spencer family.
"There have been other suggestions that the family may have moved to London and that the Spencer siblings departed from that location on their long journey to New England. This hypothesis, like the one respecting co. Essex, remains to be proven.
"Braintree and its environs, of course, were the home of the members of the well known "Braintree Company" which came to the Boston area in 1632 and first settled at Wollaston (Quincy). They remained at Wollaston only a few short weeks before moving on to Newe Towne (Cambridge) late that same year. We know that William Spencer was not among the Braintree Company because already he was at Newe Towne in 1631 (perhaps in New England by 1630). The earlier arrivals at Newe Towne had been passengers in the first flotilla of ships in the Winthrop Fleet in the summer of 1630.
Again, Spencers of the Great Migration elsewhere discusses and reiterates the state of the question as follows:
"In connection with the emigration to New England by the children of Gerard Spencer and Alice Whitbread Spencer there has been some speculation as to whether the oldest of the children (William, Elizabeth, Thomas) might have developed some connection with the Puritan leaders in nearby county Essex prior to their departure from England. There have been many statements in the historical literature that William Spencer had close ties with the Rev. Thomas Hooker who was active at Chelmsford and Little Baddow in co. Essex. Hooker's followers became known as 'The Braintree Company' when they set out for New England in the spring of 1632 (although Hooker himself did not leave England until 1633).
"The authors of the present article sponsored a study in 1993 in the Braintree area and adjacent towns of Essex county hoping to find some trace of the family of Gerard and Alice Spencer, or at least of their oldest son, William. The study was done by a competent historian, Adam Smith, and proved entirely negative. In addition, we know that William Spencer was not a member of the Braintree Company because he was in New England at least one year before the Hooker group arrived at Wollaston (Quincy), Massachusetts, in the summer of 1632.
"If William Spencer was an early follower of the Rev. Hooker in England, it does not seem to be borne out by any historical evidence or by the chronological events of that period.
Although it is not yet known where Gerard and Alice spent their final years, we know that Gerard had died at some point after his youngest child was conceived in 1613 but prior to the 1625 lawsuit of Spencer vs. Spencer, a case that involved the plaintiff "Alice Spencer, late the wife of Garrard Spencer" and the defendant Thomas Spencer, older brother of her late husband (British National Archives Reference No. C 2/JasI/S30/10, a case identified by Spencer genealogical researcher Robert Spencer). The case was a dispute between Alice and Thomas over a messuage and land in Stotfold, Bedfordshire. Later, in the will of Gerard's younger brother Richard which has a codicil bearing the date of 29 May 1646, Gerard is called "my brother Jarrard Spencer deceased." In addition, Spencers of the Great Migration says Alice died in May of 1646, though it does not state how it is known that Alice died in that month and year.
The will of Gerard's brother Richard is a crucial document for our knowledge of the genealogy of our Spencers. It is thanks to Ray T. Spencer's discovery of Richard's will, which Henry F. Waters published in the New England Genealogical & Historical Society's Genealogical Gleanings in England in 1901, that Spencer researchers were able to locate the parents of the Four Spencer Brothers in English records. The text of the will of Richard Spencer of London is as follows:
"Richard Spencer of London, gent. 17 March 1645, with a codicil bearing date 29 May 1646, proved 8 June 1646. To Thomas Spencer, son of my brother Thomas Spencer, all my copyhold lands and tenements by me purchased of the creditor of Walter Marston, situate in Kingsbury Street near St. Albans, in the co. of Hertford, in the parish of St. Michael. To Daniel Spencer of London, grocer, son of my brother John Spencer deceased, all those eight messuages or tenements, &c. lately by me purchased of John Gearing, grocer, from and after the decease of Margaret Greene of London, widow, situate in the parish of St. Margaret, Lothbury, in London. To Sarah Bland and Hannah Bland, daughters of my sister Katherine Bland deceased, and to Elizabeth Tomlyns, widow, daughter of my brother, Jarrard Spencer deceased, my messuage or tenement situate in Grace Church Street, near the great Inn, called the Crosse Keys, late in the tenure of William Toone or by assignes, to be equally divided between them, by the rental issues, and profits thereof during their natural lives. And after the decease of the said Elizabeth Tomlyns and Hannah then I give and devise the said messuage and tenement unto the said Sarah Bland and her heirs forever. To the said Daniel Spencer all my lands and tenements in the counties of Kent and Essex, he to pay unto Anthony Spencer and Jarrard Spencer, sons of my brother Thomas Spencer deceased, and unto the two children of Margaret Spencer deceased, now in or near London and at the disposing of Elizabeth Carter the aunt, the sum of 30 pounds yearly during their natural lives, i.e. ten pounds per annum to the said two children of their guardians in their minorities, or the survivor of them, and ten pounds apiece to the said Anthony Spencer and Jarrard Spencer, to be paid unto them and their guardians by half yearly payments as the rent of the said lands and tenements shall grow to after my decease.
"Item I give and bequeath unto Jarrard Spencer, Thomas Spencer, Michaell Spencer, sons of my brother Jarrard Spencer deceased, the sum of fifty pounds apiece, and unto the children of William Spencer, son of my said brother Jarrard Spencer deceased, to be divided between them equally, the sum of fifty pounds, to be paid unto their guardians, and within two years next after my decease.
"To Thomas Martyn and Mary his wife, now dwelling with me, the remaining term to come in my dwelling house and the hangings and pictures in the two rooms thereof, with all partitions in the upper rooms of it or elsewhere. To Edward Terrey vintner, my kinsman, 130 pounds which he oweth me by bond. And I bequeath unto him and Elizabeth his wife, my sister's daughter, thirty pounds, within three years &c. The rest to Daniel Spencer whom I make and ordain sole executor. Wit. John Norburie, William Norbure. Book, Twisse 79."
Along with Richard's will, researchers also located a document dated 18 Jan. 1648 at Boston, New England, in which Michael Spencer, son of Gerard and Alice Spencer, refers to "the some of thirty pounds sterly & is part of the Legacy gyuen mee by my Unckel Richard Spencer" and to "my Louinge Cousen Mr. Danyell Spenser Grocer in Friday Streete in London." This document was submitted in the court file of the case of John Ruck, Administrator, vs. Joseph Armitage, in the June term of Essex County Court (Salem, Massachusetts), 1671.
The nine children of Gerard and Alice Spencer are:
-- WILLIAM SPENCER, baptised 11 Oct. 1601 in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, England, married Agnes Harris. -- ELIZABETH SPENCER, baptised 31 Oct. 1602 in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, England; married Timothy Tomlins. -- JOHN SPENCER, baptised 22 Jan. 1603/4 in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, England. -- HENRY SPENCER, baptised 11 Aug. 1605 in Stotfold, buried 20 Oct. 1607 in Stotfold. -- THOMAS SPENCER, baptised 29 March 1607 in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, England, married twice. -- RICHARD SPENCER, baptised 11 Dec. 1608 in Stotfold, buried 6 May 1614 in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, England. -- [SON] SPENCER, buried 24 March 1609/10 in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, England. -- MICHAEL SPENCER, baptised 5 May 1611 in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, England, married Isabel (NN). 9. GERARD SPENCER, baptised 25 April 1614 in Stotfold, Bedfordshire, England.
Seventeen Generations of the Spencer Family (Part Two) Seventeen Generations of the Spencer Family (Part Three) Seventeen Generations of the Spencer Family (Part Four)
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Spencer Genealogy Resources:
British History Online: Parishes: Eaton Socon British History Online: Parishes: Blunham with Moggerhanger and Chalton British History Online: Parishes: Kempston British History Online: House of the Gilbertine Order: The Priory of Chicksand The Friends of Chicksands Priory British History Online: Parishes: Edworth British History Online: Parishes: Stotfold The Pratt-Spencer Family Home Page