Whitaker Family

Whitaker Family

Ancestors of Mary "Polly" Whitaker Ross, wife of Abner Ross of Fairfield Co., SC

Daughter of James Whitaker & Catherine Wiggins

Updated 17 Sep 2007


 William Whitaker, D.D. (1548-1595), Master of St. John's College, Cambridge University, England, in 1587, father of seven children, six by his 1st wife, Miss Culverwell, including:

Alexander Whitaker, known as "the Apostle of Virginia," who came to Virginia in 1611, had a parish in Henrico Co., converted Pocohantas and performed her wedding. Drowned in the James River, 1615, unmarried, no issue.

& one son by his 2nd wife Joan (widow of Dudley Taylor), Jabez Whitaker, born posthumously 6 Dec 1695, Lambeth, who came to James City, VA, in 1619. Married Lady Mary Bourchier, daughter of Sir John Bourchier of The Virginia Company of London.

In 1431, reference was made to Thomas Whitaker of The Holme. "It was originally a 40-room manor house built in 1603 and was the seat of the Whitaker family from the 15th century. The first Whitaker to arrive at The Holme was believed to be Richard de Whitacre, who arrived in Cliviger in 1340 from 'High Whiteacre' at Padiham. The families are descended from the first families of Lancashire, the Sherburnes, Townleys, Stanleys, and Harringtons and continued this tradition by later marrying into the Towneley family and later the Newells of Read," according to the celebrated historian Dr. T. D. Whitaker who, as well as being vicar of St. John's Church in 1788, also planted many of the fine trees around the house.

It sits on the site of an earlier property. "Originally built of wood, the center and eastern wing were rebuilt by 1603. The west remained of wood until 1717 and had one or more private closets for the concealment of priests, the family having continued as recusants until the end of Elizabeth's reign, if not later.

"Prior to the Whitaker ownership of the manor, Holme belonged to the Tattersall family . . . previously belonged to Edward Legh, to whomit probably descended from Margery de Middlemore, daughter of Gilbert de la Legh. It is conjectured that a Whitaker married a daughter of the Middlemore family."

  The Holme in Cliviger, near Burnley, Lancashire, England, home of our Whitaker ancestors, in 1904. Burnley is on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

Photos courtesy of Bill Read. Enter UK post code BB10 4SY on multimap.co.uk.



 Owned by the Whitaker family from 1431-1959, in this photo Bill Read is shown in 1977 with its owner at the time, Eric Halstead


 The Holme, which had become a nursing or retirement home, burned in 2003

The ancestral seat of our Whitaker family is a "messuage" called The Holme, located near Burnley in Lancashire. 'Messuage' is a Latin word meaning a dwelling, together with its barns and outbuildings and adjoining land, what we might call an estate. It is contrasted with "menage," which refers to the people living in a household. The Holme, with about 34 acres of land, apparently came into the possession of our Whitakers early in the fifteenth century, perhaps in 1431, when Thomas Whitaker, our first known ancestor, appears in a land record.

As early as 1302, Henry de Lacy (a Lancashire nobleman) granted the tenement of Robert de Holme to William de Middlemore and Margery his wife, and to Margery's heirs (ref: Thomas Dunham Whitaker, "History of Whalley Parish," p.203). In 1334, Roger de Holme released to Richard de Towneley all the lands Roger's father had given; and Henry, son of Roger de Holme, confirmed the deeds of his father and grandfather ("History of Whalley," p.257, 219). The Whitakers may have acquired the estate either through the female line, via Margery Middlemore's heirs, or through the Towneleys, with whom the Whitakers were early related.

When William Whitaker died in 1641, he held the capital messuage called "The Holme," as well as other messuages called Thieveley, Grimshaw, and Backclough, with 42 acres. He apparently had to pay the king at his castle, Clitheroe, a sort of quitrent of 23 s, 7 1/2 d, per annum.
"The Holme is a picturesque two-story stonebuilt house, with stone-slated roof, standing amidst beautiful scenery in the valley of Cliviger, facing south. The plan follows the usual type of central hall and projecting endwings [the shape of an "H"], but in the course of time and as a result of rebuildings and alterations has lost some of its originial features, though retaining many of the characteristics of the earlier building. It is said to have been constructed originally of wood, but the middle and east wings appear to have been rebuilt in stone about the year 1603 or before." (ref: "A History of Lancashire" p.482)

In March 2003, the middle and east wings burned (the police suspected arson). Threehundredyearold oak beams fell in on the walnut floor in the living room, with its fieldstone fireplace and mirrored wall. Since The Holme is a national landmark, it is supposed to be restored to its former state, but by whom? The west wing and the 1854 northeast addition were not affected.

Robert Whitaker, son of Thomas Whitaker, was living at “The Holme” in 1480.

Thomas Whitaker, son of Robert Whitaker, was born at “The Holme” in 1458 and died their 1529; he married Johanna _______ and they had two sons:
1. John Whitaker, (no further information)
2. Richard Whitaker, living at The Holme in 1543

Thomas Whitaker, younger son of Richard Whitaker (living in 1543), b. c1504, d. 1588; m. 1530, Elizabeth Nowell, d/o John Nowell, Esq, of Read, England. When his older brother died in 1527, Thomas Whitaker succeeded to The Holme. Two of Elizabeth’s brother were to be especially influential on the Whitaker Family.

1. Robert Whitaker, oldest son of Thomas Whitaker and Elizabeth Nowell, m. Margaret Greenwood. They were the ancestors of Dr. Thomas Dunham Whitaker, noted divine and author of The History of the Original Parish of Whalley, 1806. This Branch of the family inherited The Holme and lived there until 1912.

2. Richard Whitaker, second son of Thomas Whitaker and Elizabeth Nowell. We have found no record of a marriage or children.

3. William A. Whitaker, third son of Thomas Whitaker and Elizabeth Nowell, b. 1547, d. 4 Dec 1595. William became a Doctor of Divinity and was Master of St. John’s College, Cambridge University.

 Scenes near The Holme, Cliviger (see Cliviger Gorge), moorland & valley Highlights tour



Notice the stone fence -- amidst the Pennines -- below the moorland


 Townley Hall near Burnley dates from 14th century. Burnley was granted a Market charter in 1294

Dr. William A. Whitaker
Master of St. John’s College, Cambridge University

William was a country boy, born at The Holme in 1547. Under the Law of Primogeniture, the estate was to pass to his oldest brother, and he, as third son, was sent off to get an education and enter the church. He advanced in life through the preferment and influence of his Nowell uncles and other powerful men. Thank goodness, he acquitted himself creditably at every stage and gained a reputation of earning the fame and power he came to have.

After attending the common school in Burnley, William was taken to London, where his uncle Alexander Nowell, D.D., Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, enrolled him in the church's "prep school." At age 16, William matriculated in Michaelmas Term, 4 Oct 1564, at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Another uncle, Robert Nowell, bequeathed an annuity of 40 lbs to his nephews, William and Richard Whitaker, in his will in 1563, admonishing Richard to find a good wife, if he could. In a codicil to the same will, Robert left an annuity of 40 lbs to his nephew, William Whitaker, then A.B., scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge. The will was attested by William Cecil, later Lord Burleigh.

The master of Trinity College was the Rev. Whitgift (afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury), who singled William out for special favors, because of William's indefatigable study of scriptures, the commentators, and the schoolmen. William was regarded as an authority in both Latin and Greek. He took his B.A. in 1567-8, was made a Fellow of Trinity in 1569, and took his B.D. at Trinity in 1578.

He was ordained priest and deacon at Lincoln, 21 Dec 1576; was appointed University Preacher in 1577; and invested with the Prebendary of Norwich in 1578, in which year he was also "incorporated" at Oxford University.

In 1580, through the influence of the Nowells and Lord Burleigh, Queen Elizabeth appointed William A. Whitaker "Regius Professor of Divinity" at Cambridge University. At the time, there were only three Regius Professors in all of England, and only one in Divinity. Shortly afterwards, the Queen also made William A. Whitaker Chancellor of St. Paul's Cathedral, 1580-1587. In 1587, also, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity.

In 1586, Queen Elizabeth appointed him Master of St. John's College, Cambridge, over the protests of some of the Fellows who objected to William's Calvinistic Puritanism. William had gained his position through influence and patronage, but his administration was based wholly upon merit, scholarship, ability. His judgements were soon regarded as fair, just, and impartial, which soon made him one of the most loved of Masters. In his "History of the College of St. John the Evangelist, Cambridge" (1869), Thomas Baker is almost unbounded in his praise for William Whitaker as one of the greatest Masters of all time. William held the post for eight years, until his death in 1595.

William published several major works of theology in his lifetime and left several others in manuscript. His works are all extremely Puritan in argument and tone, he being an ardent follower of Calvin and Deza. Still, he came to be respected as the foremost theologian in the time of Queen Elizabeth.

In 1573, 1574, 1578, and again in 1673, he published Greek translations of Latin verses by his uncle, Alexander Nowell. These translations were widely regarded for their grace and beauty. In 1581, he published a bilingual (Latin and Greek) "Ten Answers to Edmund Campion, the Jesuit." An English translation (?with the Latin on facing pages) was published in London in 1606, by Richard Stock. In 1582, William published "The Pope of Rome is the Antichrist."

Over the years, he published learned disputes over scriptures with John Durei, the Scottish Jesuit (1583), Robert Bellarmine (1588), and Thomas Stapleton (1588). In all these arguments, William was said to have stated the opposition's position fairly, with clarity, and then offered his counterarguments with such logic and force, that even his opponents respected his abilities and arguments. Some of his opponents are said to have hung his portrait on their walls as a gesture of admiration and honor.

In November and December of 1595, he was working with others in London on the socalled Lambeth Articles. In inclement weather, he caught a cold, which worsened, and he died 4 Dec 1595.

He was buried under a modest monument in Old Chapel, St. Johns College, Cambridge. This Old Chapel was demolished before 1869, and now all that remains are a few stones marking the foundation.

A memorial tablet to William Whitaker was installed in the center of the anteroom of the New Chapel. The epitaph reads (in English): "Here lies Dr. Whitaker, formerly Regius Professor Divinity, a man gifted with eloquence, judgement, clarity of mind, memory, industry and sanctity. But his humility, rarest of virtues, outshone all of these. He was Master of this College for more than eight years, farsighted, defending the right and punishing wickedness."

A biography of him was written by Rev. Edward C. Brookes, B.D., M.A., Somerleyton Rectory, Suffolk, entitled "Dialogue and Syllogism in the Sixteenth Century, a Study in the Life and Theology of William Whitaker (ob. 1595), Master of St. John's, 1587-1595, Regius Prof of Divinity, 1580-1595," (unpublished thesis, 1971, University of Leeds). The Archives of St. John's College has a [poor] typescript copy. I found the English practically impenetrable.

There are two portraits of William A. Whitaker in the Master's quarters at St. John's, one in the master's office, one in the guest bedroom.

William A. Whitaker married twice: first to _______ Culverwell, who was apparently mother of at least the oldest child, and second to Joan (Taylor) Fenner, widow of Dudley Fenner, mother to at least the youngest. Dr. William A. Whitaker was father of 8 children:

1. Alexander Whitaker, “The Apostle to Virginia, b. England, 1585, d. Virginia, 1617.
2. Susannah Whitaker, b. 1587; m. _______ Lathrop
3. Samuel Whitaker, b. 1589
4. Marie Whitaker, b. 1591; m. Randolph Clarke
5. William Whitaker, b. 1592, d. 1638
6. Richard Whitaker, a learned book-seller in London
7. Frances Whitaker,
8. Jabez Whitaker, b. 1595, Cambridge, England, d. 1626, Virginia.

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