Eastbury's history has been shaped by characters. Find out more about the fascinating lives of some of these people below.
'Wife, aunt and mother'
Born into a world where women had few rights over their own property and little control over their destiny, Anne Sisley came from an affluent and educated family which flourished through the Tudor period.
The wealth and status of Anne’s family is indicated by the contents of both her father’s and mother’s Wills. Her father left her a legacy of £200 (to be received on marriage or age of 24).. This was a huge sum of money when a labourer earned between £5 and £10 per annum.
Whilst Anne’s brothers would have benefitted from a university education and the study of law at the City’s Inns of Court, she would have been home educated. With an increasing availability of printed books, it seems that Anne learnt to read and write.
Although we don’t know the date of Anne Argall’s birth, the provision of her father’s Will suggests she was born in the mid-1540s. When she married Clement Sisley in the early 1560s, she became the wife of an older, well-established man. She soon provided Clement with a son and heir, and two more sons and a daughter followed. Eastbury Hall, as the house was then known, was completed whilst these children were quite small. Did Anne’s £200 marriage portion from her late father help to pay for the completion of the house?
Clement and Anne Sisley appear to have divided their time between Eastbury Hall and a home in London. With its Great Hall, spacious rooms, large, glass-filled windows, and fireplaces with decorative stone surrounds, Eastbury was a high-status home for Clement Sisley’s young wife. It is possible that one of the first big social events that she helped organise at Eastbury was the wedding of her step-daughter Mary to Abacuck Harman of East Ham.
After Clement Sisley’s death in September 1578, Anne was left a widow with four young children. Although Clement provided for his family in his Will (including naming his preferred guardian to manage Thomas’ finances until he married, or came of age) he also left Anne and Thomas sizeable debts.To resolve the situation, Anne took a new husband, Augustine Steward. Unlike Clement Sisley, Augustine Steward was Anne’s near contemporary. The marriage brought financial security and a guardian for Thomas. Augustine gained control over Clement Sisley’s property investments for the next six years, until Thomas came of age in 1586, and Anne became step-mother to Augustine’s step-children
Anne experienced a fair share of sadness during her two marriages. Several of her children died young and she also witnessed her first-born son struggle to retain his inheritance after his father’s untimely death.
She lived through a time of transition in Britain’s history, witnessing the end of the Tudor dynasty, living through the turbulent years of the Reformation, the threat of Spanish invasion and the Gunpowder Plot. She also lived in a time of increasing curiosity about the World, witnessing England’s developing interest in overseas settlement and trade, and living just long enough to hear of her nephew Samuel Argall’s departure to England’s new settlement in Jamestown, Virginia.
What sort of man was Clement Sisley? We have no portraits of him but there is a wealth of legal documents, including his will, which give some idea of his character and status. Clement Sisley himself claimed the right to a coat of arms and traced his ancestry back to Fountains in Yorkshire. He appears to have been a wealthy man and ‘good for credit’. Contemporary documents suggest that the bulk of his money came from good marriages, land deals, rents and profits from tithe ownership. These link his name with various high-status families, and property investments in Kent, Essex, Dorset and the London area.
Widowed twice, his third marriage took place not long before building began on Eastbury Hall. His new wife, Anne Argall, was the only daughter of the recently-deceased Thomas Argall, wealthy and prominent royal tax and land administrator.
Clement owned and leased other property than Eastbury locally and in the City of London. It is probable that he and his family regularly travelled between the City and their new country retreat, following the fashion of other well-to-do contemporaries
Various documents give glimpses of how the family lived. Servants were an important part of the household and at least eight were being employed when Clement Sisley died. The family could afford to supplement home produce from Eastbury Hall’s dovecote, orchards and gardens, with spending on beer from the brewer to supplement home-made ale. The house was built on a gravel terrace near the marshland and Clement owned cattle and horses, including a sorrel gelding and a grey curtail.
Thomas Sisley was Clement Sisley’s oldest surviving son and heir, and he grew up expecting to inherit Eastbury Hall and other property belonging to his father.
He was less than 14 years old when his father died. Under English Law at the time, he couldn’t legally take control of his own affairs until he married or reached the age of 21. When his mother remarried, he became the Ward of his step-father Augustine Steward the Elder. This was not the guardian chosen by his late father who had hoped that Peter Osborne, a family friend, would have legal responsibility for his son.
It appears that several of Clement Sisley’s outstanding debts were still unpaid when Thomas became responsible for his estate at the age of 21. The problem was eventually resolved in 1592 when, having first argued that he couldn’t afford to do so, his step-father was persuaded by family members to take control of Eastbury in return for paying debts and substantial annuities to Thomas and his mother Anne.
After this, little detail of Thomas’s life has emerged. We can find no record of a marriage or his death although we know he was alive in 1610 when his mother left him £5 in her will to buy a horse. He never inherited Eastbury as his father had planned. Did he return to Ireland? Were his records destroyed in the Great Fire of London or during the English Civil War, or are there more records somewhere, waiting to be discovered?
Augustine Steward the Elder
'The second husband to Anne'
The magnificent Purbeck marble tomb in Lakenheath church, Suffolk, erected in memory of Augustine Steward’s father Simeon, suggests Augustine was born into both a significant and prosperous local, land-owning family. Indeed, his family claimed they had historical connections to Scottish Kings.
Augustine Steward’s education suggests he was an ambitious man. He attained a BA degree at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was then admitted to the Middle Temple, one of four closely connected London training centres for English barristers. He takes the typical route of many contemporary young men hoping to influence public life.
Augustine Steward was 34 when he married for the first time to Lucy Campion in 1577. What was he doing in the intervening years? No doubt, he was honing his knowledge of the law and making useful legal and business contacts. She was not able to provide him with a son and heir. Within two years he was a widower with two young step-children and no heir of his own.
Like many of his contemporaries in a similar situation, he was soon married for a second time to Anne, widow of Clement Sisley of Eastbury Hall, Barking. Anne Sisley’s new husband seems to have regarded Eastbury as an investment rather than a family home.
Family life for Augustine and Anne Steward didn’t always run smoothly. Between 1586 and the 1590s Augustine was involved in several court cases. These occurred after his wife’s family accused him of treating Thomas unfairly and making it impossible for him to retain his rightful inheritance when he came of-age, including Eastbury Hall, because of debts accrued during his minority. The death of all but two of their children must have created further sadness in their lives.
His death in 1597 may have been unexpected. He had hoped to be buried at St Sepulchre’s Church, near his London home, but it seems he was buried at St Mary’s Church, Braughing, in Hertfordshire. He was 55 and left behind a widow and two young children. Augustine, his namesake, son and heir, ensured that his legacy continued into the next century.
Contemporary visitors to Eastbury are often surprised by the survival of its late Elizabethan wall paintings. Now badly faded, the coat of arms depicted on the south wall is that of John Moore. Although a tenant, John Moore appears to have invested in expensive decorations which reveal him as a man of wealth, fashionable taste and learning. Did he intend to make Eastbury a long-term country retreat for his wife and step-daughter?
John lived in Spain long enough to meet and marry the widowed Maria Perez de Recalde (née Kirton). As staunch Catholics, the family of Maria’s late husband, Alonso, appear dismayed by her new marriage to an Englishman. On his return to London John Moore had business around the Port of London, working for several Government departments under the eye of Queen Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, William Cecil. He seems to have been a trusted government employee, a respected member of the Skinner’s Company and an influential figure in local politics
Having been connected with international trade over a long period of time, John took an interest in the proposed East India Company to promote trade around the Indian Ocean and to import pepper and spices to England. Even before the Company received their Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I, on the 31 December 1600, he ventured the huge sum of £300 on a proposed voyage to the East Indies. Whilst he was involved in the early years of the East India Company, he also had a pressing family concern; the need to find a Roman Catholic husband for his pious step-daughter, Maria.
An inventory made after his death in 1603 gives us valuable information about the contents and layout of his country home at Eastbury Hall. Although information on the kitchen and associated rooms is badly water damaged, we learn that there were at least six bedsteads with feather mattresses and pillows, two with yellow hangings, a pair of keyboard instruments called virginals, a looking glass in one of the upstairs closets, and other household items including six leather stools. Sadly, he didn’t live to see the safe return of the East India Company’s first expedition to Sumatra, Indonesia and Java in the East Indies.
It was recently suggested that an 18th-century map showing evidence of early landscaping at Eastbury, which included a pathway between fruit trees to an island in a small lake, may reveal work done in John Moore’s time. In the decades after his death, the property seems to have suffered from neglect . How different things might have been had he lived!
In January 1586, the 21-year old Thomas Sisley gained the right to control his inheritance at Eastbury after his step-father’s guardianship. Just a few months later in June, his tenant William Carewe sold brothers John and James Bartlett a license to farm Eastbury’s valuable rabbit warrens.
However, life as a sub-tenant could be unpredictable. Despite their considerable investment, Carewe declared they had broken the terms of their agreement. He threw John out of his home and locked the brothers out of the property, preventing them from retrieving their equipment or household goods. Carewe’s claim that the brothers had failed to pay their rent on time seems suspicious. Was he regretting locking himself into a ten-year agreement in a period of high inflation? Did he plan to hedge against inflation by evicting the Barletts, in order to find another tenant who would pay a higher rent for a shorter period? If this was the reason, the outcome was less simple than he might have expected.
The Bartletts took Carewe to court in London to argue their rights. Being separated from both home and their means of making a living must have been devastating. Sadly, we don’t know the outcome of the law case. William Carewe’s lease of the land appears to have continued unabated and the document gives an insight into how tenuous life could be, particularly for those without education or the ‘right’ social connections.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the failure by Thomas Sisley’s step-brother (Augustine Steward the Younger) to regularly monitor tenants may have been the reason why claims were made that sub-letting by one tenant had resulted in the neglect of Eastbury’s warrens, orchards, gardens, outbuildings and the house.
Augustine Steward the Younger
'Step-brother to Thomas'
Augustine Steward was the youngest surviving child from the marriage of widow Anne Sisley to Augustine Steward the Elder. Born into a wealthy and socially well-connected family on the 13 October 1584.Augustine’s childhood seems to have been spent mainly in London.
Like his step-brother, Thomas Sisley, Augustine lost his father in his early teens and expected to gain his inheritance at the age of 21 or his marriage, whichever happened first. Unlike Thomas, he didn’t inherit an impossible burden of debt. Instead, he inherited a considerable property portfolio and all the income that came from it. Augustine was 19 when he married Elizabeth Barnham in 1603.
Records for Augustine’s married life are sketchy, but he appears to have lived the life of a wealthy man of property. He outlived his wife but his Will refers to three sons Martin, Edward and Francis, and a daughter, Judith.
Documents do reveal that in the early years of his marriage, he had enough surplus money to invest in the newly formed Virginia Company of London.Augustine’s name appears on the third Virginia Charter of 1612, which extended territorial jurisdiction as far as Bermuda.As an investor, he wasn’t required to travel to Virginia, but when his cousin Samuel Argall became Deputy Governor of Virginia (in the absence of Governor Lord de la Warr), Augustine decided to leave his wife and young family and sail for Virginia. Was he taking advantage of his family connection to check on potential investments or was he, perhaps, planning to settle in Virginia? Augustine Steward was no doubt aware that in London arguments had been going on over the way his cousin Samuel was running the Jamestown settlement in the Colony of Virginia after the death of Lord de la Warr. Both men were back in London and attending Virginia Company meetings by the Autumn of 1619.
Augustine’s priorities may have changed in 1620 when he became a widower with a young family.
To repay his father’s lender and secure the Hoxton property for future heirs, his son Martin completed the sale of Eastbury. With this sale in 1628, Eastbury’s connection with the extended Sisley family was finally broken.
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