In our latest blog Dr Vivienne Larminie, assistant editor of our Commons 1640-1660 project, continues with our recent theme of marriage. She considers two mid-17th century Wiltshire MPs and their opposing personalities by way of their family lives…
By late 1642, as the confrontation between king and Parliament escalated, personal rivalries between two leading local gentlemen threatened to undermine fatally the parliamentarian war effort in north Wiltshire. In early January 1643 one MP for Chippenham, Sir Edward Bayntun of Bromham, the designated commander of Parliament’s forces in the county, sent his lieutenant to arrest the other MP for Chippenham, Sir Edward Hungerford of Corsham, as the latter raised troops in Malmesbury for the defence of Cirencester. Despite an imminent threat from Prince Rupert’s royalists, that town sent a rescue party. Hungerford was liberated, while Bayntun and his lieutenant were taken into custody. Other Wiltshire MPs rallied round Hungerford, and on the 31st Parliament declared him the new local commander. But a disgruntled Bayntun did not go quietly and a feud between his family and Hungerford’s periodically re-erupted.
Superficially, the two MPs had much in common. Both had first entered the Commons as very young Members in 1614 and were now sitting in their seventh Parliament; both were wealthy, well-connected and at the pinnacle of local government. But in other respects they were complete opposites. Their contrasting characters played out in strikingly different private lives.
Having married into the godly Essex gentry, Bayntun had built up a record of defiance towards the crown, but he was otherwise an improbable puritan – not only quarrelsome, violent and a grasping landlord, but also abusive in his relationships. Already a frequenter of the law courts, in 1626 he brought an action in chancery against his uncle Sir John Danvers and numerous Danvers cousins. He alleged that in 1621 they had enticed his mother, Lucy Bayntun, then terminally ill, to move from his home to the house of her brother Sir John in St Martin in the Fields and then persuaded her to leave the bulk of her estate to them rather than to himself and his sister. Although Sir John did have a reputation for acquisitiveness, there were serious flaws in Bayntun’s case. Notably, it was entirely plausible that Lady Bayntun might wish to forsake his disordered household for the cultivated intellectual milieu of Sir John and the much older wife to whom he was devoted, Magdalen, mother of the poet George Herbert.
In 1629 charges were levelled against Bayntun that he had fathered children on two of his wife Elizabeth’s waiting gentlewomen, Katherine Gerard and Alice Hardy, and had promised Katherine that he would marry her when her sickly mistress died – an imminent eventuality, according to Elizabeth’s horoscope. Furthermore, he had committed adultery with other women of varied social status and boasted of his conquests. Supposedly, this was common knowledge in Wiltshire and London. Certainly, a pardon issued to Bayntun in 1630 for adulteries with Katherine ‘or any other person’ appeared to confirm gossip. It is doubtful that Bayntun mended his ways. When, as a widower from 1635, he married again in August 1640, it was to obscure Mary Bowells; although the wedding was entered in a London parish register, secrecy surrounding it later cast doubt on its authenticity.
In contrast, Sir Edward Hungerford was the archetypal puritan patriarch. His bride also came from the godly Essex gentry. Margaret Halliday was one of the two daughters and prospective heirs of William Halliday, a wealthy London mercer about to become governor of the East India Company. Unlike Bayntun, Hungerford had mostly cordial relations with his in-laws. Sir Henry Mildmay, husband of Margaret’s sister Anne, became a close associate; in a draft of his will, Hungerford requested burial ‘within the vault where the bodies of my dear and pious father-in-law and mother-in-law do rest’ [TNA, PROB11/205/497]. He was patron of the almshouses they had established at Corsham and perpetuated their charitable impulse with bequests to the poor of eight parishes. With his older half-brother Sir John St John of Lydiard Tregoze, he supported the interests of other family members, and took under his benevolent wing his younger half-brothers Henry Hungerford and Giles Hungerford. He and his wife were childless, but together they presided over an extended household of long-established servants and had many male and female friends. In designating Margaret his executrix, Hungerford referenced ‘my deare and loveing wife (whome god hath made both a comfort and an ornament unto me in the dayes of my labour and pilgrimage here)’ and commended his relatives to her ‘motherly care’ [ibid.].
Towards the Bayntuns, however, the Hungerfords were less amicable. In 1643, Hungerford proved no more effective a commander of local levies than Bayntun had been, thereby fuelling the latter’s sense of grievance. Following a series of confrontations over the summer Bayntun, his eldest son the red-headed ‘fiery spirit’ Edward Bayntun, and Hungerford were enjoined by the Speaker not to disturb the peace of Parliament or the kingdom with their private affairs. In June 1644 a select committee was instructed ‘to compose the differences, if they can, between [them]’ [Commons Journal iii. 517]. But the two MPs pursued divergent paths.
Hungerford remained a consistent Presbyterian in religion and politics to his death in 1648, leaving his wife and half-brothers to unite in petitioning Parliament for repayment of the large sums he had lent for the war effort. Bayntun continued to scandalise, issuing foul-mouthed accusations of treachery against John Pym, for instance, yet unexpectedly supporting the army and the republic in 1648-9. Visiting Bromham in 1654, diarist John Evelyn recorded with distaste Bayntun’s practice of making his guests’ servants drunk, while after his death in 1657 family divisions intensified and Edward Bayntun questioned not only his stepmother’s jointure rights but also the very fact of her marriage.
The Commonplace Book of Sir Edward Bayntun of Bromham ed. J. Freeman (Wiltshire Record Society, 1988)
Journal of the House of Commons, vol. 3 via https://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol3
Further biographies of Sir Edward Bayntun, Edward Bayntun, Sir John Danvers, Sir Edward Hungerford, Henry Hungerford, Sir Henry Mildmay and John Pym are being prepared by the House of Commons 1640-1660 project.
Follow the research of our Civil War project through our James the I to Restoration blog series.