The mystery of Christian Bath

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March 22, 2017 by auntkatefirmin

Could Christian, Edith, and Robert Bath have been the surviving siblings in their family? Leaving aside the issue of how John Parsons fits into the picture, let’s look at the heirs of Christian who died and 1636, and Robert who died in 1645. I’ll also make some guesses about what is implied about Christian herself from the will and related documents.

AKF_Christian-Bath-Will

Opening lines of the will of Christian Bath of Wootton Bassett as recorded in the probate register.

Christian gave the bulk of her estate to her “sister” Edith Horsell and Edith’s children, and twelve pence to her “brother” Robert. Let us assume for the moment that Edith and Robert were indeed her brother and sister rather than in-laws, and that Christian felt that Robert had sufficient financial resources that she didn’t need to give him anything more than a token to acknowledge she hadn’t forgotten him. In the 17th century money and property stayed in the family and therefore I’d like to think that Edith Horsell was Christian’s closest living relative other than Robert.The simplest possibility is that Edith is Christian’s sister; in this scenario Christian never married and had no direct descendants. So far nothing rules out this version.

Robert gave the bulk of his estate to the Horsell children, and the sum of twenty pounds to Anne Glade, the daughter of Nicholas Glade of Purton. While this was a non-trivial sum, I will leave Anne aside for the moment as I believe she was Anne Gleed and a second cousin of Robert, whose grandmother was probably Joyce Gleed. In other words I think we can explain how Anne was related to Robert, although not necessary why she was singled out from a number of cousins, unless it was by some unnamed service or a particular closeness to Robert and Millicent. This reinforces the notion that Robert, like Christian, had no direct descendants and choose his nephew and nieces as his most logical heirs.

What other clues can we glean about Christian?

The form of a will in this period is supposed to state the name of the maker in such a way as to include the person’s “estate,” and location. Usually the will of a woman would have either spinster or widow as her estate, where a man would have either an occupation, like mercer or butcher, or a class description such as yeoman or gentleman. Christian did not include any statement so it’s a not proved that she was a spinster rather than a widow. In an era when the mother’s name was not given on baptismal records, even if she had married she wouldn’t have appeared in the register as the mother of particular children so we can’t search the baptismal registers for evidence as to the existence of a married woman Christian Bath. In addition there’s only one burial record indexed for any Christian Bath in the region around Wootton Bassett and it does not state that she was a widow or provide the name of her husband, while many of the records for other women in the register do include such information.There was another individual named Christian Bath who married Thomas Short in Wootton Bassett in 1621; the register notes her as Christian Bath, jr. To my mind this clarification of “jr” implies that there was an older unmarried Christian Bath in the neighborhood – possibly the woman who wrote the will.

The only thing we can say for certain about Christian’s age is that she was over 21 as she held her finances in her own right. If Christian, Edith, and Robert are all the same generation then my very rough estimate is that they were born some time between 1570 and 1590. If we use 1580 for Christian then she was unmarried and about 55 when she died – perhaps as many as 10% of the population were over 60 in this era, making her long-lived but not exceptionally so. In the reference I consulted, the general number of individuals of Christian’s generation who never married was estimated somewhere between one and two percent of those who survived to marriageable age so in this scenario she was exceptional in that respect.

Christian was unusual in another way – she is recorded as having signed her will in an era when not even all the gentlemen signed their own names. In Christian’s lifetime society was ambivalent about women’s education. On the one hand, Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603) was an example of the best of humanist education, while on the other hand some individuals in the rising tide Protestant reformers insisted that women’s roles and women’s education should be very circumscribed and limited to a supporting role. As more information about the Bath family and attitudes in rural areas like Wiltshire is uncovered perhaps there will be more clues about how the Bath family reflected the mores of their time – or not! Could Christian’s education imply that her mother was educated also?

Christian’s will itself does not mention the “howse at the Lawne gate” given her by John Parsons in 1623, as she had only the use of the house during her life. I am not certain whether in this era it was unusual for an individual to live in a household of one – I suspect that for many reasons (both practical and social) it was more likely that she was part of a larger household or at least employed a live-in servant. It really is a pity that we don’t know how many beds there were in the house. I suspect that the “Lawne gate” refers to an area called “Wootton Lawn“- which is worth a post of its own related to the struggles of the Wootton Bassett burgesses regarding their rights of common which they claimed were taken away by their landlords the Englefield family.

We have no inventory for Christian’s estate and a portion of her furniture and other possessions is grouped as “all my other goodes.” She did give some of her bequests in the form of cash. After the 12 pence for the church and the 12 pence to her brother, the largest sum, ten pounds, went to her sister Edith. Edith’s daughters were each given twenty nobles. By 1637, nobles had not been coined for over 150 years so I am assuming that Christian used the term noble in an accounting sense, as 1/3 of a pound or 80 pence, resulting in a gift of the value of 6 2/3 pounds to each of the Horsell girls. Nobles were gold coins and at one point the coins were re-valued as 100 pence based on the increased worth of gold. So at a minimum valuation (if my math is correct) Christian had 23/8/8 in savings or investments (such as loans) as she does not mention needing to sell anything to raise the funds for her legacies. In 1637 there were no branch banks as we know them (or even a Bank of England) and very little cash actually circulated.

Robert was a “gentleman” and I will assume that Christian’s holdings provided the means for her to live as a gentlewoman, although I am not clear on the actual logistics. Wootton Bassett was a market town, so many of the goods and services she needed would have been available locally. It seems likely that the Bath family were close to the social level of the burgesses of Wootton Bassett; the Horsell family were craftsmen. It would be delightful to uncover more about the standing of Christian’s parents.

Christian was a Biblical name, considered a female equivalent of Christopher, and was less common than names like Ann, Mary, or Joan. In some contexts such a name might indicate non-Conformist religious views – Christian’s will does mention that she commits her soul to her “Redeemer” which is a term somewhat characteristic of this period leading up to the English Civil War so it is difficult to know if she was simply following a conventional format or had her own deeply held beliefs (or both). Christian may simply be a name passed down in the Bath family, as Edith’s daughter Christian might be a namesake of her (presumed) aunt. Edith‘s name has more of a Saxon flavor and Robert is among the most common English names – so Christian, Edith, and Robert together as given names in one family are an interesting mixture.

In short, while there is little hard evidence of Christian outside her burial and the mention of her in the wills, nothing contradicts the notion that Christian, Edith and Robert were siblings rather than in-laws, cousins, or other close relations. This overview of aspects of Christian’s life begs to be expanded into more posts about religion, material culture, rights of commons, education, rural market towns, and other aspects of her society in this very interesting period of upheaval and changes.

 

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