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The Dudleys of Northamptionshire

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     For a little more than a century after the Restoration of the 'Merry Monarch,' few families held a higher position in 'the land of spires and squires' than the Dudleys, baronets and lords of the manor of Clapton, near Thrapston, in the above-mentioned county. During the Civil Wars they had espoused the cause of royalty, and had shown their zeal by parting with much of their plate and jewels, in order to supply the personal wants of the unfortunate Charles, and, when his son came to the throne, they were among the favored ones who were not forgotten. The young king entered London in triumph at the close of May, 1660, and the patent of baronetcy bestowed on William Dudley, Esquire, of Clapton, in the county of Northampton, bears date the 1st of August following. Sir William was the lineal descendant of the Suttons, one of whom had taken, as was usual, or at all events common, in such cases, the surname of Dudley on his marriage with Margaret de Somerie, the daughter and heiress of John de Somerie, by his wife, Hawise Pagnell, whose ancestors were Lords of Dudley at a date very soon after the Norman Conquest. Sir William had three Rives; but he had children only by his third lady, a daughter of Sir Paul Pindar, Alderman of London, whose mansion still partly stands-though on its last legs in Bishopsgate Street Without. His son, the second baronet, was for many years member of parliament for his native county, and a Commissioner of the Customs; and as his grandson, another Sir William, proved to be the last of his line, the title expired with him in 1764.
     Among the ancestress of this Sir William Dudley, one deserves special mention for her personal bravery. Her name was Agnes Hotot, heiress of an ancient and noble family of that name, who claimed to have come over to England with the Conqueror, though their name does not figure on the roll of Battle Abbey. She was certainly no unworthy daughter of a noble house, and she deserves being held in memory for one deed of gallantry, which stands recorded in a contemporary manuscript penned by a reverend monk, who was vicar of Clapton during the reign of Henry VII. The account runs as follows, the spelling of the manuscript being modernized
     'The father of Agnes Hotot, the great heiress who married Dudley, having a dispute with one Ringsdale about the title to a piece of land, they -the litigants- resolved to meet on the disputed ground, and to decide the affair by single combat. On the day appointed for the encounter at the lists it so happened that Sir John Hotot was laid up with the gout; but his daughter Agnes, rather than that the land should be lost by default, armed herself cap--pie, and, mounting her father's horse, went and encountered Ringsdale, whom she unhorsed after a stubborn contest. When he lay prostrate on the ground, she loosened her throat-latch, lifted up the vizor of her helmet, and let her hair down about her shoulders, thus discovering her sex.'
     It may be supposed that Ringsdale was somewhat crestfallen on finding that he had been fairly vanquished in the lists by a woman; and it is to be hoped that he carried his quarrel no further. Doubtless, there was no lack of suitors for the band of this brave heroine; but, whether they were few or many, she married one of the Dudleys, from whom Sir William was directly descended in the fourth or fifth generation.
     One memorial of the gallant deed of the fair Agnes survived, at all events as long as the male line of the Dudleys held the broad lands of Clapton; for they bore for their crest, as the heralds express it, 'On an eastern crown, or, a woman's head with a helmet thereon, hair dishevelled, throat-latch loosed, all proper.Certainly the symbolism of heraldry is sometimes very appropriate and eloquent; and if there are any Dudleys still existing, whether within or without the border of Northamptonshire, it is possible that they claim the right of bearing that crest as one of which they may well feel proud.
     I am told by the present rector of Clapton that the last Sir William Dudley died at York in 1764, but in what churchyard he was brazed is now unknown. The old church of Clapton has been pulled down and rebuilt, and all that now records the family is a pair of tablets almost illegible, though on one of them can be deciphered the words: 'Reliquiae  Ed. Dudley, armigeri; obiit Maii 6, 1632, tatis su 72.' Clapton Manor (or Hall, as it is now called) is probably a wing of a much larger building, and it still stands in park-like grounds. There is a tradition in Clapton that the lofty spire of the old church was struck by lightning, but that the Dudley of the day, instead of repairing it, pulled it and the tower also entirely down, and built two farm-houses with the stones, selling the bolls to pay his gambling debts.
     It only remains to add that some years prior to the death of the last of the Dudleys, the estate was sold to Sir Hutchins Williams, Bart. a cousin of the ancestor of the present squire the lord of the manor and patron of Clapton Mr. Augustus Peere Williams-Freeman.

* According to another account the arms are a chevron, or, between three lions' heads erased, arg.-'The Visitations of Northamptonshire,' Harl. MSS., 1553, fol. 188

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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