MARVELS OF THE MINSTER: Croydon’s connections with the monarchy go long and deep, and as DAVID MORGAN outlines here, not always well
Two short entries in the burial register of Croydon Parish Church from the middle of the 17th century provide us with a starting point to explore the history of another family with Royal connections.
“1650 February Sir John Tonstall buryed”
“1651 February My Lady Tonstall buryed”
Sir John Tonstall and his wife, Lady Penelope, lived at Addiscombe House, having bought the estate from the Heron Family in 1624. The family name still lives on in Croydon today, as Tunstall Road in Addiscombe.
Tonstall was very well-connected and his name appears in many different historical sources. Court Papers of King James I, dated July 27, 1613, might only provide a line or two but within them there can be found a great deal of information. A warrant to advance the sum of £200 was issued to him “as a Gentleman Usher to the Queen for her expenses in going to Bath for the waters”.
The wife of James I was Anne of Denmark.
She was an independent-minded consort who was a great supporter of the arts. Anne and James married in 1589, when she was just 14, making her Queen of Scotland. They had their first child, Henry, in 1594 but the royal couple fell out over where Henry would be educated. Although the couple went on to have another six children, only two survived into adulthood.
Anne was so ill after the birth of her final child Sophia in 1607 that she decided she would have no more children. Anne could be very firm over her decision-making. At James’ coronation in Westminster Abbey on July 15, 1603, which united the kingdoms of Scotland and England, she caused quite a stir by refusing to take communion.
The archbishop who placed the crown on James’ head was John Whitgift. I don’t suppose he would have been too happy at her show of dissent.
As one of Queen Anne’s gentleman ushers, Tonstall would have spent the majority of his time at Greenwich. This was the palace gifted by James to Anne as their lives grew steadily apart. It was also part of an appeasement on his part to show that he had forgiven his wife for accidentally shooting dead his favourite hunting dog. Before the gift of Greenwich, Anne had lived at Denmark House on the Strand.
The 1613 warrant to give Tonstall money to pay for Anne’s visit to Bath is interesting.
After the Queen’s last confinement, she suffered greatly from gynaecological problems. Her ill health was exacerbated by bouts of gout and the pain from ulcerated legs. She made a few trips to spas in Greenwich, as well as to Bath, in efforts to improve her health but to no avail.
She was taken so ill at Hampton Court in 1618 that she had to remain there during her final illness, dying of tuberculosis on March 2, 1619. Anne’s relationship with her husband had deteriorated so much that he never even came to see her in that final demise and chose not to erect a tomb in her memory in Westminster Abbey, even though she was buried there.
Tonstall, in his role as gentleman usher, was part of the funeral procession that accompanied the Queen to her final resting place.
And 1619 is also the year where more evidence comes to light about Tonstall. Along with three other men, John Cochre, Edmund Van Der Duffin and Joachim Lines who were Commissioners from the United Provinces of the Netherlands, he was knighted by King James at Theobalds House in Hertfordshire, the king’s favourite country retreat.
Was this a reward by the king for his loyal service to Anne?
One further historical source from this same year comes from south of the Thames, in Dulwich. The College there was founded on June 21 by Edward Alleyn with letters patent from the King. Among the 15 witness signatories was Sir John Tonstall.
As a footnote in this document, he is described as living in Carshalton and is named as a Justice of the Peace for Surrey. Tonstall’s home in Carshalton was Stone Court. This was a grand house, now demolished, which stood in the area today called The Grove.
Tonstall’s family life can be pieced together from a variety of church records. He married Penelope Leveson, the daughter of Sir Walter Leveson from Shropshire, at St Martin in the Fields in London on May 15, 1611. His age was given as 35 and hers as 25. Although he was recorded as a widower, the details of his previous marriage, or marriages, are unknown.
The couple must have set up home in London as their first son, Henry, was born in Drury Lane in December 1612. Frederick was born in London in 1614 but the third son, Richard, was born in Carshalton in 1617. The fourth son John was born at Addiscombe in 1621.
Their daughter, Penelope, born in 1619, was baptised in St Giles, Camberwell.
The eldest son Henry, recorded as living in Croydon at the time, was married in St Martin in the Field in 1638. Frederick went up to Oxford, gained an MA and went into the church. He was ordained by the Bishop of Carlisle in 1637 and from 1640 to 1645 was a Prebendary at the cathedral and Rector of Calbeck. John followed in his father’s career by becoming a Gentleman Usher to Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I.
It was in the 1640s that life for the Tonstall family became difficult. The English Civil War broke out in 1642. Given their background and status, it is obvious which of the two sides they would support in the conflict.
Frederick was removed from his position in the church having taken himself “to the army against the Parliament”. His father, Sir John, by now an old man, gave much money to the King in his support. The defeat of Charles and his subsequent execution resulted in financial ruin for Tonstall.
As well as financial troubles, there were family fall-outs too. In 1647, son John was appointed as one of the commissioners inquiring into the conduct of clergy in Surrey. His clergyman brother Frederick would not have been too impressed when he heard that news.
The Croydon Church records show that in 1624, Tonstall was one of the named trustees who were responsible for managing the £1,000 bequeathed by Henry Smith of London for the parish of St John’s, Croydon – what was then the Croydon parish church and what we know today as the Minster. With the money, the trustees purchased an estate in Limpsfield, Surrey, the profits from which were to be used to provide relief to the poor folk of the parish.
It was in Tonstall’s name that Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, purchased land in Aldbury, Warwickshire, in the 1630s This estate was later exchanged for lands in Surrey, the rents and profits from which were to go to providing opportunities for poor children from the parish to gain apprenticeships each year.
Archbishop Laud was another, like Tonstall, who found himself on the losing side in the Civil War, leading to his execution in 1645.
Sir John was into his 70s when he died in 1650, a long life indeed in those times, though he never sawthe monarchy restored. The same year, the family sold their Addiscombe estate, probably to help to pay off their debts. Was the wording of Lady Tonstall’s death in the register a year later as “My Lady Tonstall” a nod towards her reduced circumstances in her final days? The use of the word “my” seems a charitable one.
Nothing remains of the memorial to Sir John Tonstall and Lady Penelope in the church now.
Sir John’s star waxed and waned. Like so many in history, he was doing well in life until he found himself on the wrong side of the divide.
Read more: The church fire that consumed a thousand years of history
Read more: Brassed off: following the trail of church’s long-lost memorials
Read more: On Croydon’s Tudor trail to track down the court of Henry VIII
- David Morgan is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster
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