Rise and fall of the landed Dentons

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This period finds Dentons living in a number of places in Warwickshire and Buckinghamshire. However, their involvement with two different estates around fifty miles apart proves most interesting. These are Baddesley Clinton, nine miles north of Warwick, and Hillesden, five miles south of Buckingham.

Baddesley Clinton

The house at Baddesley Clinton was built in the early 1400s on land earlier cleared within the Arden Forest by a Saxon named Baeddi. The moat was built in the 13thcentury by the de Clinton family and these two separate names were joined to form the name Baddesley Clinton.

In 1438 the land was acquired by Sir John Brome, a GGF13. He was a lawyer who married into another prominent local family when he wed Beatrix Shirley. He built the original property partly in the  Arden sandstone quarried locally. His daughter Isabella Brome (1435-1474) married Sir John Denton of Wittenham (1445-1497); they were GGP13.

The property passed to the Ferrer family in the 16thcentury and Henry Ferrer heavily expanded the building. He built on a great hall, established a formal garden and added many coats of arms to the fabric of the building. Eventually it became a National Trust property, opened to the public in 1982.

Baddesley Clinton house

Baddesley Clinton house


Having ceded Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire to the Ferrers family, the Denton attention moved further south to Hillesden, today a rather remote and tiny place located four miles south of Buckingham.

Hillesden All Saints Church which cwas oonce attached to Hillesden House – ©Bob Denton 2016

Hillesden manor house in Buckinghamshire had previously been owned by Edward Courtenay, the Marquis of Exeter, but he and his parents became implicated in the Roman Catholic ‘Exeter Conspiracy’. Henry Courtenay (Edward’s father), Geoffery Pole, Sir Edward Nevill and Sir Nicholas Carew had all been close to Henry VIII in his early years but in the late 1530s they were accused of treason and after interrogation and imprisonment each was executed.

The Poles and Courtenays had their lands confiscated and Edward Courtenay was imprisoned in the Tower from 1538-1553. In 1547 Thomas Denton was able opportunistically to purchase Hillesden from Edward VI for £63 6s 8d. The Denton family owed its rise to the legal career of Thomas Denton in the mid-Tudor period. Hillesden became the Denton seat while Thomas expanded the land he owned in Buckinghamshire around Hillesden and held land in Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Herefordshire.

The Dentons held Hillesden for more than 200 years, and became a family of considerable local importance. Because of  the London trade, Buckinghamshire was relatively prosperous compared with many others at a time of general trade depression, with some 200 gentry families, of whom approximately 40 or so were considered as prominent. Many of this closely-knit group were related to one another. Sir Alexander Denton of Hillesden was the brother-in-law of Sir Edmund Verney of Claydon and father-in-law to Sir William Drake’s younger brother Francis from Amersham. Denton was also a cousin of Sir Peter Temple of Stowe.

Sir Alexander Denton, the head of the house at the time of the Civil War, had married a cousin of John Hampden, but his Royalist sympathies were well known. In 1642 a Parliamentary soldier, Nathaniel Wharton, boasted of having, with a file of men. ‘marched to Sir Alexander Denton’s park, who is a malignant fellow, and killed a fat buck.’

As we shall see the house was later sacked by Oliver Cromwell in 1644. However, the estate was sustained beyond this date.


This crop of Dentons based at Hillesden routinely represented Buckinghamshire in parliament during the 17th century but as royalists became embroiled in the English Civil War their line became all but extinct by 1714.

Houses of Parliament logo: Source: bbc.co.uk

Dentons supplied many MPs for over three centuries, from 1413-1722. At various times representing:

  • Banbury (1554, 1558)
  • Berkshire (1547)
  • Buckingham (1604, 1614, 1621, 1624, 1625, 1626, 1628, 1640, 1640-1644, 1690-1698, 1708-1710, 1715-1722)
  • Buckinghamshire (1554, 1698-1708, 1708-1713)
  • Huntingdon (1413, 1414 and 1416)
  • Midhurst (1553, 1554, 1555, 1558, 1559, 1563)
  • Oxford (1539)
  • Oxfordshire (1558)
  • Wallingford (1536)
  • and Wendover (1624).

John Denton of Fyfield (1375-) – GGF16

By the time of this John the Dentons had established themselves at Fyfield five miles west of Abingdon, quite close to Appleton where my GGF18 and GGF19 were based. A manor had been there since the 10thcentury. The Chronicle of Abingdon states that in 956 CE King Eadwig (who ruled Wessex from 955 to 959) granted his thane Aethelnoth the land. By the time of the Conquest it was granted to Henry de Ferrers. At that time Fyfield was in Berkshire.

Fyfield manor house

Fyfield manor house was built by 1325 and enlarged during the 16thcentury Elizabethan period. I have found no suggested evidence that Dentons actually lived in it; our thrust in this period was still to come. But if John Denton lived in Fyfield and had the right to use the name ‘of Fyfield’ then he must at least have interacted with the incumbents – de Ferrers in the 14thcentury and Golafres in the 15thcentury.

Fyfield’s St Nicholas Church is also 12th/13thcentury so John Denton would have worshipped there. John Golafre built the north chapel to be his mausoleum. It has quite a shocking effigy that does not pull punches with its image of human death.

Sir John Golafre’s spooky memorial in St Nicholas, Fyfield

John Denton does however beg a question. Born in Fyfield, married at Baddesley Clinton, how was it that he was MP for Huntingdon in 1413, 1414 and 1416?

Johanna de la Launde’s
coat of arms

He married Johanna de la Launde (1375-1401) which makes the Baddesley Clinton connection. They had three children, Sir Thomas Denton of Fyfield and two daughters, Alice and Anne.

Sir Thomas Denton (1401-1427) – GGF15

This Thomas was quite short-lived, dying at just twenty-six years old but not before he and his wife had my GGF14, another Thomas.

In 1420 Sir Thomas married Agnes Danvers (b.1398). Her surname is probably a derivative of D’Anvers (of Antwerp). Agnes’s family could lay claim to descent from King Henry II and held lands in Calthorpe, near Banbury, Berkshire.

Agnes Danvers

Agnes rather promptly remarried after Thomas’s death. In 1428 she married Sir Thomas Baldington in Thame Oxfordshire, where two of my grandchildren have grown up. The Baldington family based themselves in Albury some five miles west of Thame, Oxfordshire. In the 15thcentury the broader area of Old Thame was owned by the crown, the Bishop of Lincoln its tenant. He sublet a portion of the land to the Baldingtons where they created Baldington Manor. The manor is first recorded in 1419 when William Baldington died and it passed to his son, the Sir Thomas who married Agnes. However, Albury manor house today is barely noticeable, just a few bumps and lumps in the countryside. Even its late 12thcentury church was demolished during the 19thcentury and rebuilt. Only its original font remains.

In 1436 Agnes married Sir John Fray of Chelmsford in Grafton, Worcestershire. At sixty-nine years old she married again to Sir John Wenlock, Baron Wenlock of Luton. Then at the grand old age of seventy-six she married Sir John Say of Broxbourne. Married five times and every one a knight!

Sir Thomas Denton of Fyfield (1427-1453) – GGF14

This Sir Thomas would not have known his father and was only been nine years old when Agnes married her third husband. Perhaps this had something to do with his marriage to Lady Alison Dauncy at a young age. He was just seventeen and she was fifteen years old.

They married at Adderbury, Oxfordshire and neither of them proved to be long-lived, Thomas emulating his father and dying at twenty-six years of age. Alison reached only twenty-four. They both appear to have died in 1453 which begs the question as to why? I can find nothing about their deaths. Could it have been due to the plague?

1453 was a momentous year for other reasons. It was when the Hundred Years’ War between England and France came to its unsatisfactory end. It was when the Eastern Roman Empire at Constantinople fell to the Ottomans. In fact many historians suggest that 1453 marks the end of the Middle Ages, believing the period ran for a millennium from the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 CE according to Gibbon) to the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire (1453).

Sir John Denton (1445-1497) – GGF13

John was sometimes described as of Wittenham, Oxfordshire and the son of Thomas Denton of Fyfield. This title most likely refers to Little Wittenham with its distinctive chalk ‘clumps’ that featured in a Time Team episode. It was part of Berkshire until 1974 and is now in Oxfordshire. The clumps were the location of an Iron Age hill fort and the TV programme uncovered a Romano-British house with a mosaic floor and painted walls.

The Wittenham Clumps is a well-visited site that has accumulated many sobriquets, but my favourite derives from a lady of the manor – Mother Dunch’s Buttocks, hopefully not a Denton! The area was occupied from 1000 BCE. The hill fort dates from 600 BCE but it appears to have been unoccupied from 300 BCE when the Roman villa was built. It boasts two significant finds, an oval bronze shield discovered in the River Isis back in 1836 and the Wittenham sword and scabbard found in 1982 and dated to the late Iron Age.

John married the widow of Philip Purefoy of Shalstone, namely Isabella Brome, the daughter of Sir John Brome (see below). In 1472 Philip’s brother John released the manor of Sherford in Burton Hastings to John and Isabel. They had two sons, Thomas my GGF12 and James my GU13.

In this part of the Denton extended family there is an interesting illustration of how to keep hold of your property in the 15thcentury. Philip Purefoy’s father William had married Mariana Moton the heiress of the Lord of Shalstone. This brought the valuable Shalstone Manor, located four miles north-west of Buckingham, into the Purefoy family.

Shalstone Manor

William and Philip Purefoy both died in 1466. When Isabella remarried Sir John Denton in 1468 there was the potential for both manors to be lost to the Purefoy family. In 1493 their solution was to marry off Nicholas Purefoy, the son of Philip’s brother John, to Isabella’s daughter by John Denton, Lady Alice. Nicholas was seventeen, Alice was twenty. They were half-cousins and on the cusp of what would be a forbidden marriage. However, sixty years later in 1560 the church’s ‘Table of Kindred and Affinity’ was drawn up and this union would still have been permitted.

Sir John and Isabella had another daughter Lady Anne who also married well to Sir Edward Greville, Knight of Milcote.

Sir John Brome (1410-1468) – GGF13

By virtue of the marriage of John and Isabel, Sir John Brome became one of my thirteenth great grandfathers. He was a wealthy lawyer who was probably knighted by Henry V. He married Beatrix Shirley in 1431 and this effectively unified two of the most powerful families in Warwickshire.  Between them they controlled land in Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Rutland, Staffordshire and Warwickshire.

By 1438 the Bromes had acquired Baddesley Clinton house. They had seven children, perhaps that explains why the property was extended to both the east and west of the original house.

Sir John Brome was appointed Under Treasurer of England but as a Lancastrian supporter he suffered when the Yorkist Edward IV deposed Henry VI and he promptly lost his court appointments in 1461. Worse, he quarrelled with John Herthill the steward to The Earl of Warwick (aka The Kingmaker) in a property dispute. Herthill wanted to pay off a mortgage early but Brome wished to keep the land. On 5 November 1468 Sir John, a staunch Roman Catholic, was attending mass at the Whitefriars Carmelite Monastery church in the city of London when he received a message that someone was waiting to meet him at the church front entrance. This proved to be Herthill who promptly stabbed Sir John to death. Brome survived long enough to include a comment in his will that he forgave his eldest son Thomas who had apparently smiled when he saw his father attacked in the church porch. Sir John was buried at the monastery.

Monument to a later Sir John Brome (died 1558) and his daughters

Nicholas Brome (1440-1517) – GU14

John’s second son Nicholas Brome, a fourteenth great-uncle, avenged his father’s death when he killed Herthill in 1471. He escaped punishment by funding a priest to pray at Baddesley Clinton church for the souls of Sir John and Herthill for two years. He also paid Herthill’s widow 33s 4d.

Nicholas was in trouble again when he returned home to find the priest of the Baddesley church (hopefully not the one he funded) in the parlour with his wife– chockinge his wife under ye chinne (stroking his wife under the chin). Nicholas promptly stabbed him to death.

Killing a priest was a serious crime in his day but Nicholas must have had superb connections as he obtained a rather generous pardon from Henry VII in the form of a catch-all letter issued on 7 May 1496 which pardoned him for all crimes committed before 7 November 1485. In fact his negotiating skills must have been spectacular, or perhaps his pockets were deep, as he also obtained a pardon from the Borgia pope, Pope Alexander VI.

St Michael’s Baddesley Clinton, showing tower and raised nave

To further show his penitence by 1500 he had added steeples on churches at Baddesley Clinton church (St Michael’s) and Packwood (St James) and raised the nave of the former by ten feet – they were known as the ‘towers of atonement’

Inscription on the tower at St Michael’s

Obviously he still felt the need for penitence on his death. He was buried at the threshold of the south entrance of the church so that ‘people may tread upon mee when they cone [sic] into the church….

Nicholas Brome’s tomb – acting as a stepping stone

Sir Edward Ferrers (1462-1535)

However, Nicholas Brome’s stone is not the most remarkable feature in St Michael’s. Nicholas’s daughter Constance (1465 – 1551) married Sir Edward Ferrers (1462–1535) of Tamworth and there is a painted table tomb to Edward and a 16thcentury stained-glass window reproducing likenesses of both Edward and Constance.

Sir Edward Ferrers’s tomb St Michael’s Baddesley Clinton
St Michael’s East Window
the Ferrers are in windows 2 and 4, top tier

Sir Edward was knighted following Henry VIII’s capture of the (Belgian) city of Tournai in 1513. He successfully led a band of a hundred men during that campaign.

Thomas Denton of Fyfield (1465-1560) – GGF12

He was known as Thomas Denton ‘of Fyfield’ and also ‘of Caversfield’, though his ownership was rather tenuous. He married Jane Webb (of Cardiff and Hertfordshire), the widow of Cheyne of Chesham Bois in Buckinghamshire. They married in 1489 at Caversfield and had two sons, John Denton of Ambrosden and Thomas (my GGF11), and six daughters, Isabel, Susan, Alice, Elizabeth, Jane and Anne. His daughter Susan became a nun at Studley and was thus reported as a Catholic recusant.

Caversfield was land held before the Conquest by Edward, a man of Tostig Godwinson, Earl of Northumberland. This was one of twenty-six manors and townships held by Tostig. Tostig and his family were exiled by Edward the Confessor for poor management of the borders with Scotland. Tostig encouraged Harald Hardrada of Norway to invade the north of England, prompting his brother Harold Godwinson (aka Harold I) to enjoin them in battle at Stamford Bridge where Tostig was killed on 25 Sep 1066. Nineteen days later on 14 Oct 1066 Harold Godwinson was himself defeated at the Battle of Hastings.

In 1511 Thomas Denton leased Caversfield from Richard Langston for a term of twenty years at an annual rent of £26. The two fell out in 1525 when Langston claimed that Thomas had used his subtle and crafty mind, being expert in making of writings and forged a new lease granting himself a further term in the manor. Langston died at the end of 1525 but the argument continued with his heir John Langston who died in 1558.

In 1526 Thomas was Sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire. He was elected to six parliamentary constituencies – Wallingford (1536), Oxford (1539), Berkshire (1547), Banbury (April 1554), Buckinghamshire (November 1554) and Oxfordshire (1558). His ‘electoral mobility’ was perhaps influenced by his ongoing speculation in land.

Thomas appears to have held the manor until his death in 1560. Interestingly, he died in Wootton in Berkshire, some eighty miles south of Caversfield. I can only assume this was land acquired in the Vale of the White Horse– see below. Today Wootton is in Oxfordshire.

St Laurence, Caversfield

The church of St Laurence in Caversfield had a marble slab for John Langston (died 1506) and his wife. It bore three brass scrolls issuing from a heart held by two hands. The scrolls were inscribed respectively heu michi domine quia pecavi nimis in vita mea or ‘woe is me , Lord, for we have sinned grievously in my life’ – quid faciam miser ubi fugiam nisi ad te deus meus.., or ‘whither shall I flee to Thee alone , O my God , what will I, wretched…’ and miserere mei dum veneris in novissimo die or ‘have mercy on me at the last day when you will come’. Below this was a Denton coat of arms, impaling a moline cross.

A moline cross

John Denton of Ambrosden (1490-1576) – GU12

John was the eldest son of Thomas (GGF12). He was born in Caversfield in Buckinghamshire. In 1515 he married Magdalen Brome, daughter of Sir John Brome of Holton. They had six sons, two Johns, Edward, George, Thomas and William, and four daughters, Jane, Anne, Bridget and Dorothy.  

John’s father transferred him a lease on Caversfield in his 1533 will, although this may have already expired by then. In 1541 John’s ongoing argument with the Langstons over Caversfield flared up and his servants rioted against John Harman, a local MP. As a result there was an investigation by the Privy Council into the affair. They sound a fractious lot as another dispute arose when John tried to prevent his tenants from felling trees or leasing their tenements at will. The court ruled that they should enjoy their customary rights. John was later charged with ignoring this decision and threatened with a £200 fine. This suggests our general belief that the lords of the manors ruled completely autocratically and without interference is far from true. 

Rather more usefully John also inherited the manors of Foscott and Appleton. However, he settled initially in Blackthorn and became known as ‘of Blackthorn’. Many of his children were born in Hampton Poyle; all these are places in the general area around Biceseter.

Ambrosden is five miles from Caversfield in Oxfordshire. It was crown property until 1542 when Henry VIII granted it to John in exchange for Foscott and a payment of £57 12s 9p and three farthings – the deal also him granted John Nun’s Place (aka King’s End) in Bicester. John sold Appleton on gaining occupation of Ambrosden in 1564, passing it to John Fettiplace, a stepson of Thomas Denton.

John had a succession of roles in Oxford and Oxfordshire rising to become sheriff of the county from 1557-8. He also became the MP for Banbury in 1558 at a time when this type of dual role was not normally permitted. While he was sheriff John appointed his brother Thomas (GGF11) as one of the knights for Oxfordshire. As an MP he served on the Commission of the Peace under Mary I, suggesting he must have shared the Catholic beliefs of his wife and his sister Susan, the nun. 

He prepared his will in 1573 and died in 1576 but his namesake son pre-deceased him, thus his second son Edward became his heir. Edward married Joyce Carleton of Brightwell Baldwin, Oxfordshire – the location of one of my favourite local pubs for a special meal – The Lord Nelson.   The Lord Nelson, Brightwell Baldwin, Oxon

The Lord Nelson, Brightwell Baldwin, Oxon

In his will John left forty shillings to his sister Susan and named one of his younger sons William as his executor, to be supported by three overseers – his brother-in-law Sir Christopher Brome, his nephew Alexander Denton and his son Edward Denton. His wife Magdalen survived him for twenty years and in her own will provided £20 for a tomb or monument of marble to be erected in Ambrosden church. I could find no trace of it.

James Denton LLD (1474-1533) – GU13

I insert this James here because All Saint’s Church at Hillesden has a booklet suggesting Sir Thomas Denton my GGF11 was the son or descendant of James. In principle my having him as Thomas’s uncle is not at odds with the church data. I show James with a son Thomas who married a Margaret but that Thomas’s birth date was a little later. This leaves me with a few questions.

James was born in Halifax, attended Eton College where was a King’s Scholar, and subsequently became a priest. At King’s College Cambridge he gained his BA in 1489 and an MA in 1492. He later studied canon law and earned his doctorate at Valencia, Spain. In 1505 he arranged for Cambridge University to recognise this as a Cambridge doctorate. His coat of arms (below) indicates he must have been connected to my Denton branch.

James Denton’s coat of arms

He was Canon of Windsor from 1509 to 1533 and Archdeacon of Cleveland from 1523-1533. He also enjoyed prebends (a portion of revenue as his stipend) at Lichfield in 1509, Salisbury in 1510 and Lincoln in 1515. He was also rector of several parishes including St Olave’s of Southwark, London in 1509 and later St Swithun’s Church, Headbourne Worthy in Hampshire. In 1522 he was appointed the 14th Dean of Lichfield.

As her almoner and chancellor James accompanied Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, to France where she became Queen of France. He stayed with her for the four months of her marriage to Louis XII (Oct 1514 – Jan 1515). On his return Mary pressed Cardinal Wolsey to reward him and he became the royal chaplain and later a privy councillor to Henry VIII.

In 1519 James built a property adjacent to St George’s Chapel at Windsor as a residence for the choristers and chantry priests where they would live and eat. It became known as Denton’s Commons; this was demolished in 1895. In 1520 he was one of the royal chaplains dressed in damask and satin at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the summit between King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France.

In 1524 James was appointed legate, part of a three-man commission sent to seek to reform the Irish ‘pale’. He died in 1533 and was buried at St Lawrence’s Church, Ludlow which is known as the ‘Cathedral of the [Welsh] Marches’.

Sir Thomas Denton (1504-1558) – GGF11

Sir Thomas Denton 1504-1558

Thomas was born at Caversfield, between Bicester and Banbury. As the second son (to John of Ambrosden) he pursued a career in law, joining the Middle Temple shortly before his father’s death.

Thomas married Margaret Mordaunt, daughter of the Baron of Turvey, in Bedfordshire and later he married Elizabeth de Vere. Margaret was widow to Edmund Fettiplace of Bessels Leigh, Oxfordshire with whom she bore nine children. With Thomas she had two sons, William (GGF10) and Sir Alexander. Thomas was Mayor of Wallingford in 1536 and took many roles in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

As a prominent lawyer Sir Thomas Denton surpassed his elder brother in importance and wealth. He worked closely with Thomas Cromwell and the king. For example he (with two others) was commissioned to prepare a report on the Inns of Court for Henry VIII.   

As a reward he became MP  in a succession of constituencies – Wallingford (1536), Oxford (1539), possibly Oxford or Wallingford but records are lost (1542 and 1545), a knight and MP for Berkshire (1547), Banbury (April 1554), a knight and MP for Buckinghamshire (November 1554) and Oxfordshire (1558), although he died during the last parliament’s prorogation. His brother’s marriage to the Brome’s of Halton may have helped with his appointment as Oxford’s MP in 1539.

Together with the 1st Baron Stafford he is credited with obtaining the incorporation and enfranchisement of Banbury on 26 January 1554 and he was returned as its first MP. However, he was absent when the House was called early in January 1555 and was brought before the King’s Bench. In 1558 he was distrained, though the sum charged has been erased.

The reason Thomas Denton was so mobile in terms of the constituencies he represented was that he was a prolific acquirer of lands. He negotiated with the prominent Hampden, Temple and Verney families and built the reputation of the 17thcentury Dentons in Buckinghamshire. This was enabled to a large extent by Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1536-1541 and the subsequent selling off of their lands. In December 1541 he acquired land in the London parish of St Olave. In May 1545 he bought former monastic lands in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Norfolk, Oxfordshire and Suffolk for £321. He paid £310 for more properties in Berkshire and another £118 for even more Berkshire land. In 1546 he acquired the 21-year lease of Farthingoe Manor in Northamptonshire. For £63 6s 8d he bought two mills in the forest of Macclesfield, Cheshire. He also owned a manor or farm called Lee Mill in Gloucestershire.

In May 1547 he was granted and purchased the manor of Hillesden from Edward VI for £63 6s 8d. It had previously been owned by Edward Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter, but he and his parents were implicated in the Roman Catholic Exeter Conspiracy and imprisoned from 1538-1553 and the land was confiscated. Thomas paid a quarterly rent of £5 13s 6d for Hillesden.

He would become the Treasurer of the Middle Temple from 1556-7.

Thomas’s will dated 20 July 1557 asked for him to be buried in Hillesden All Saints Church with ‘a fair tomb of marble’ following an elaborate funeral. He funded sermons and alms to preserve his memory in eight local churches so priests would pray for his salvation and passage through purgatory.

Thomas also sourced six silver ‘standing pots’ to be distributed to his brother John, his stepson John Fettiplace and others, again with injunctions to pray for him. His widow Margaret was to enjoy Hillesden for life and their son Alexander inherited the bulk of the estate and his library.

Hillesden All Saints Church
©Bob Denton 2016

My direct lineage then moved away from Hillesden with William my GGF10 but a colourful series of Dentons remained living in Hillesden until it was sieged and destroyed by Oliver Cromwell. Here are some of them:

Sir Alexander Denton (1542-1576) – GU11

Hillesden was inherited by Alexander when he was just sixteen and a wardship was established in 1559 with his mother Margaret looking after the estate. He lived only to the age of thirty-four with his first wife Ann Willison (1548-1566) dying at eighteen during childbirth. Anne was from Sugwas, Hereford; hence their memorial (below) is in Hereford Cathedral.

Alabaster painted effigies of Sir Alexander Denton and Anne Willison (1548-1566)

in Hereford Cathedral. The child in the foreground is thus their daughter Jane Denton (1566-1566)

Lady Mary Martin (1557-1574)

Alexander remarried Lady Mary Martin from London in 1573. She was the daughter of the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Roger Martin. They had one son Thomas in 1574 before she died at just seventeen years old. I cannot establish if this death was also in childbirth, but it appears likely. The memorial below was erected by Margaret, presumably Alexander’s mother, after his 1576 death.

Memorial to Alexander and Mary Denton in Hillesden church
©Bob Denton 2016

Sir Thomas Denton (1574-1633) – IC11

Alexander’s son was born at Hillesden and matriculated from All Souls, Oxford in 1589 aged fifteen. His first wife was Susan Temple, daughter of John Temple of Stowe. They had six sons, Alexander, John, Paul, Thomas, George and William, and eight daughters, Margaret, Isabel, Bridget, Susan, Elizabeth, Anne, Dorothy and Alice.

Sir Thomas became the High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire and was knighted in 1603.

The Temple family controlled the principal manor and fair in Buckinghamshire and this enabled Thomas to become the MP for Buckingham in 1604-11, 1614 and 1621-2, then MP for Buckinghamshire from 1624-26 and again for Buckingham from 1628-1629. For reference, 1629 was when Charles I decided to dispense with parliament and rule his kingdoms himself for eleven years.

Thomas’s parliamentary activities were varied. In 1604 he was appointed to consider the needs of English captains who served in Ireland. Later he was part of a committee looking at statutes to limit the use of guns and to preserve pheasants. On another occasion he assisted in passing a bill that would forbid married men to live with their wives and children in colleges. Later still he attended a conference tasked with looking at a proposed union between England and Scotland.

He got into trouble when he supported Charles I’s extra-parliamentary taxation, and worked to get the Benevolence and a Forced Loan through parliament to raise £250,000 for him. He was deselected as MP for the county in 1628 and forced to go back to his old seat of Buckingham.

By 1613 Thomas had expanded his landed estate, buying for example the Sutton-cum-Buckingham prebend and parsonage in 1613 for £4,500.  He settled £2,500 on his daughter Margaret to enable her marriage to Sir Edward Verney but ran into financial problems and was forced to sell three manors to his brother-in-law Sir Peter Temple.

Thomas died in 1633. His will arranged the sale of lands in Buckinghamshire, Herefordshire and Oxfordshire. Together with the sale of his household plate and goods he cleaned up his financial affairs and left small annuities for his children. He was buried at Hillesden in the chancel.

Rev Richard Denton (1603-1663) – 3C11

See more of Richard and his migration under American Dentons

Sir Alexander Denton (1596-1645) – 2C10

Alexander, the eldest son of Sir Thomas, was educated at Christchurch, Oxford matriculating in 1612 aged seventeen. In 1617 he married Lady Mary Hampden from Wendover, the daughter of Edmund Hampden. My two English grandchildren will be interested to learn that Mary’s uncle was John Hampden as both attended John Hampden School in Thame.

Alexander was knighted in 1617 and became MP for Wendover in 1624; this probably owed much to the interests of his wife’s family. He was MP for Buckingham in 1625, 1626, 1640 and 1644.

In 1626 he and his father were among those appointed to investigate a bill based around a Chancery decree to divide up a fen between the lords, tenants and other inhabitants of Feltwell in Norfolk. He was a JP for Buckingham in 1630 and appointed High Sheriff of Buckingham from 1637-8.

In the latter role he was criticised by the Privy Council for his poor performance in collecting Ship Money, one of the many contested taxes introduced by Charles I in his extra-parliamentary period. Ship Money was a tax on coastal counties to fund ships required in time of war. Charles introduced it to inland counties in peacetime. This was one of the provocations leading to the Civil War.

Illustration of Alexander Denton in Hillesden church – ©Bob Denton 2016

Alexander’s royal sympathies saw him appointed Captain of Buckinghamshire’s troop of horse by the Duke of Buckingham. Although Alexander was elected an MP to the Long Parliament of 1644 his being a royalist at arms saw him excluded in January 1644.

Perhaps as a result of this, also in January 1644, parliamentarians attacked Hillesden House but they were initially rebuffed. In February Colonel William Smith and a garrison of 260 men were based at Hillesden from where they could support the king who at the time was based at Oxford. The house was occupied by many of the Denton family and some of the Verney family.

In March 1644 some two thousand men led by Oliver Cromwell and Samuel Luke laid siege to the Hillesden Hall. The overwhelming odds inevitably enabled them to take and sack the house. Colonel Smith and Alexander Denton were captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

The current door on the Hillesden church is said to have been salvaged from the sacked Hillesden Hall and still bears musket holes

Hillesden door – indicating the holes
©Bob Denton 2016

Their ‘fall’ did not end there. In May the Parliamentarians seized Abingdon and destroyed its famous cross. The Royalists mounted three major assaults to try to retake Abingdon and on 22 August 1644 Alexander’s second son John (1623-1644) was slain, having received thirty wounds. Alexander died in the Tower the following year on 1 January 1645 and was buried four days later at the war-damaged parish church of Hillesden.

ASIDE: The tutor on my OU Roman History course told me he had attended the Royal Latin School in Buckingham which had a Denton House, and every week they had a prayer to commemorate ‘those through whose bounty this school was endowed’ including Alexander Denton. 

Hillesden was also home to the Verney family who intermarried with the Dentons. Sir Edmund Verney (1616-1649) was a professional soldier who had served in Ireland in 1641 and become a colonel by 1644. He returned to England as lieutenant-general of Chester but the city was lost to Parliamentarians. Edmund escaped to Le Havre and Paris. In 1648 he was back in Ireland defending Drogheda against Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell’s assault on 11 Sep 1649 was successful and he followed through with a massacre of the defenders, boasting I do not think Thirty of the whole number escaped with their lives.

Edmund survived the massacre but three days later, walking beside Cromwell in his camp where he assumed he was safe, he was called aside by the son of Lord Ropier. He assumed this was to renew an old acquaintance but Ropier barberously rann him throw wth a tuck.

Many of the lands and leases of Alexander’s father had been sold back in 1633. The loss of Hillesden therefore led to a bankrupt inheritance.

Thomas’s and Mary’s effigies and a close-up of their heads at Hillesden church
©Bob Denton 2016

Hillesden church is festooned with Denton memorials. It has a hybrid Denton coat of arms on the wall, twice including the original trefoil version.

Denton coat of arms in Hillesden church – ©Bob Denton 2016

This floor plaque in the church claims to be for Dorothy the ‘seventh daughter’ of Alexander and Mary. I can only find six daughters and Dorothy appears to have been the third-born.  She was seventy-five when she died in 1712 and there is no record of a marriage or children.

Dorothy Denton marble floor panel at Hillesden church
©Bob Denton 2016

In 1850 a wall at the Manor Farm in Hillesden fell or was pulled down and an account book of the Denton Estate for the years 1661-1667 was discovered. It was bound with calf, around 14.5” x 9.5” in size and held with two brass clasps. It makes for interesting reading as to values back then.

The small book shows that in 1662-3 there were thirty rents collected from tenants, mostly paid in instalments. The most fruitful tenants were Robert Brashead who paid £104 that year for part of the new Parke, his home-stall, Mareway ground and Kingsbridge Meade in Hillesden; George Adams paid £102 for the nether ground and meadow in Cowley; Dr Robert Townshend paid £98 for House and lands in Cowley; Robert Friday paid £96 for part of the West Field, the Windmill ground, the middle Don meadow and his part of the great meadow in Hillesden. However, the Widow Atkins paid just 1d per annum for her house and homestall. Within his agreement another tenant Thomas Paxton had to pay 2 couple of rent capons annually at Christmas.

The accounts for the period showed income from rents, the sale of timber and faggots, the sale of crops and wool, sales of cattle, income from trustees and loans that summed to an average of £1,450 per annum across the period of the book (1661-7). Expenditures were shown as rates and taxes (averaging £96pa), William Hayne’s fee as steward (£20pa for first five years and £28 11s in 1666-7), labour (averaging a total £76pa) plus cattle purchase, interest, annuities, the minister’s stipend (£35pa), rent of the rectory (£38pa), payments on land and to trustees and, for only the last three years, the cost of the children’s school (£30pa). These totalled an average of £1,418 across the period. The estate therefore made on average only £36 per annum – not too bad for an outlay of just £63 6s 8d paid out over a century earlier.

Intriguingly, the steward proved none too successful with cattle sales at £451 10s 2d across the six years versus expenditure of £508 8s 0d. In his defence there is no opening and closing headcount of the cattle so he may have been charged with building up the herd and flock. Prices appear very changeable. Purchasing ten heifers cost the estate £35 in 1661 and only £23 in 1667. The cost of a tegg (a sheep in its second year or before its first shearing) was 16s 9d in 1663 and just 12s in 1667. The sale of wool fetched £1 2s 6d per tod (about 28lbs) in 1665 and £1 in 1666.

Dr William Denton FRCP (1601-1691) – 2C10

As the clash between the king and parliament developed the Dentons of Hillesden were confirmed Royalists. Thomas’s youngest son Dr William Denton FRCP (1601-1691) was physician to Charles I from 1636 and travelled with the king during the campaign against Scotland in 1639.

He was evidently a charmer with a reputation among the women at court and was nicknamed ‘speaker of the parliament of women’. With his negotiating skills he was able to make peace with the Westminster Parliament in 1644, though he had to pay £55 to effect this.

Memorial to William Denton FRCP in Hillesden church
©Bob Denton 2016

Alexander Denton (1654-1698) – 3C9

This black marble memorial on the floor of Hillesden church is to Alexander Denton. He was the first son of Edmund Denton and Elizabeth Rogers. He did not have a great start in life. He was an orphan by the age of three and his father’s excesses left him with little in the way of financial security. He was raised by his godfather Sir Ralph Verney and Dr William Denton, by then the court physician to Charles II. Alexander was appointed to the Buckinghamshire lieutenancy in March 1680.

Alexander Denton (1654-1698)
©Bob Denton 2016

He married Hester Herman in 1673. They had eight children but in March 1688 Hester ran off with a close friend, Thomas Smith. A lawsuit concluded Alexander should be paid £5,000 by Smith and any suggestion that his wife deserved financial support was negated as she had had run off with £500. She had brought a small fortune as a dowry to the marriage, so this was harsh. Denton refused to see her and she died in 1691. John Verney (aka Lord Fermanagh) stated it was no ill news for her husband. Denton did however pay for her funeral in Spitalfields.

He became the MP for Buckingham from 1690-1698, to some extent ‘cocking a snook’ at Sir Ralph Verney. John Verney, who obviously was good with soundbites, dismissed Alexander’s betrayal and called him a silly drunken cuck[old]. Alexander split his time between London and Hillesden. He apparently became passionate in his pursuit of the ‘turf’.

He managed to be re-elected in 1695 despite his ongoing courtship of a ‘Mistress Clarke’ from Watford. He proved to be an inactive MP, applying for five leaves of absence in his political career.

Sir Edmund Denton (1676-1714) – 5C7

Despite Alexander’s failings, his first son Edmund matriculated at sixteen from Wadham College Oxford in 1695 and joined the Middle Temple two years later. He set about administering his father’s estate and replaced his father as MP for Buckingham. This set him on a collision course with John Verney, now the second baronet. He was however elected as MP for Buckingham from 1698-1708 and became a baronet himself in May 1699. He had resolved his father’s estate by 1702.

Edmund married Mary Rowe in 1705. This was somewhat complicated by the fact that her father Anthony was owed money by Edmund’s father. Edmund pursued the balance of the ‘divorce settlement’ that Smith owed Alexander, but it was unclear whether this was to benefit Alexander or to be remitted to Anthony Rowe.

In 1702 Edmund was reported as having a tedious complicated distemper of consumption and gout and he moved to Bath in Somerset in search of a cure. He made regular such journeys over the coming years as he switched to become MP for Buckinghamshire from 1708-1713.

In 1714 he was reported dangerously ill with smallpox and he died in May. His will left his real and personal estate to his brother Sir Alexander Denton.

Edmund Denton (1676-1714) – ©Bob Denton 2016

Sir Alexander Denton (1679-1740) – 5C7

Alexander and Hester’s second son was another Alexander (1679-1740) who, as with many gentry families, was directed into a career in law. He matriculated from St Edmund Hall Oxford and joined the Middle Temple in 1698. He took silk in 1704 and became a King’s Counsel in 1720.

Memorial to Sir Alexander Denton in All Saints, Hillesden

His career was helped when he became embroiled in the case of Ashby v White in 1703. This was a foundational case in UK constitutional and tort law. It concerned the right to vote and malfeasance of public officials. Ashby had been prevented from voting in Aylesbury by a Constable White. Alexander became something of a Whig martyr when, in fighting for habeas corpus, he was removed from the House of Commons and imprisoned for supposed breach of privilege. He later fought for immigrant German Palatines to be naturalized, adding to his reputation within his party.

He was MP for Buckingham 1708-1710 when he became private secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and an MP in the Irish Parliament from 1709-1710. He later returned to be the Recorder of Buckingham. Being away in Ireland he lost his Buckingham seat in the October 1710 election. In 1714 he became Attorney General to the Duchy of Lancaster and regained his seat from 1715-1722.

In May 1714 Alexander’s financial situation was transformed, firstly when he inherited his brother’s real and personal estate, and again when he married Catherine Bond from Sundridge, Kent in 1716; she brought with her a £20,000 fortune.

He held a number of roles, joining a committee on the bill to rebuild Eddystone lighthouse, becoming Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons, Justice of the Common Pleas in 1722 and chancellor to Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1729.

He applied unsuccessfully to Walpole in January 1736 to be made lord chief justice of the common pleas and again in February 1737 to be made lord chief justice of the King’s bench, however Walpole told him that he was ‘too old and infirm to discharge the duty’. Offered the post of chief baron of the Exchequer in 1738, he at first refused; but ‘when I shewed a willingness to submit … the objection was made and no time given me to do what [was] required’. ‘My greatest desire is to know why I was so very much pressed to take it and why I was so easily dropped.

Alexander and Catherine had no issue so, when he died in 22 March 1740, his property was passed to his nephew George Chamberlayne, the son of his eldest sister Elizabeth. George promptly assumed the name George Chamberlayne Denton (yet another who took our name). George was adopted by Alexander’s brother John to formalise this (see below).

Memorial to Alexander and Catherine
©Bob Denton 2016
Plaque to Catherine Denton – ©Bob Denton 2016

John Denton (1680-1701) – 5C7

The third son of Edmund Denton and Elizabeth Rogers was John Denton who matriculated from Merton College Oxford in 1698 at sixteen.  He too had no issue but as we saw above he adopted his sister’s son George Chamberlayne (Denton).

John Denton (1680-1701)
©Bob Denton 2016

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