Aphra Crayford is hard to spot in a plethora of deeds, wills, land titles and political disputes, but she’s still very much in the picture.
She was married at the age of twenty two and settled with her husband in Ireland where she raised a large family. She saw the transfer of the British throne from monarch to monarch to parliament to monarch again. She saw skirmishes and outright rebellion in Ireland through all of her married life, and she witnessed – from a distance – the end of her family’s influence in Kent.
It was a time of immense change, and what a shame we don’t have it in Aphra’s own words. What were her thoughts on the annihilation of the world order as she once knew it? Did she have fears for her children’s future? Did they feel safe? Did they feel helpless?
Aphra herself – and her children – can be found scattered through the genealogical records, rarely connected together. Not much remains from that time and the families travelled extensively which doesn’t help.
This post is about what I know so far.
Aphra’s birthplace; Great Mongeham, Kent
“THE CRAYFORD-HOUSE, alias STONEHALL, was a mansion situated at a small distance westward of the church … this mansion, for many descents, was the property and residence of the family of Crayford, whose estates in this neighbourhood were very considerable. In the year 1460 at the battle of Northampton, fighting on behalf of the then victorious house of York, mention is made of William Crayford, Esq. who was then made knight-banneret by King Edward IV for his eminent services performed there and at different times before … from this Sir William Crayford, knight-banneret, this seat and estate descended down to William Crayford, Esq. of Great Mongeham, who died possessed of it in Charles II.’s reign, and seems to have been the last of this family who resided here.“The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 9. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1800.
The story of Stonehall at Great Mongeham is a story of influence, power and wealth.
The house no longer exists. We don’t actually know what it looked like, but chance references imply that it was large with extensive grounds. The family played their part in the support of their King – or Queen at the time of Aphra’s birth – and were rewarded or punished accordingly, as per the times.
This was a family with a long proud history, something Aphra was no doubt taught from a very young age. At the time of that first Sir William’s conferral of honours they were already associating with Edward IV. They can trace their lineage on some sides back to the Norman conquest, a point of great pride in that time period. Not perhaps on the Crayford side, but even if it was a maternal line it still counted. They were very clearly Important.
Aphra’s parents were Sir William Crayford (a later namesake of the original) and his wife Anne Norton whose lineage was as illustrious as her husband’s. They parented nine children; four sons and five daughters. Aphra was child number eight, the youngest girl. Her brother Robert was born a year later. (NOTE: Some family trees have two more children in this family after Robert – John and Richard.)
The Early Years
Aphra’s childhood was relatively calm. Events were far away and Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne, followed by James I in the year that Aphra turned sixteen. Life for Aphra was probably focused on domestic matters. The marriage of her eldest brother Edward to Anne Hayward. The marriage of her eldest sister Anne to John Warren. The birth of nephews and nieces.
In 1609, Aphra married Thomas Maunsell.
Thomas was thirty two years old and like the Crayfords, he could trace his lineage back to the Norman conquest through maternal lines. His family came from Buckinghamshire where they held a respectable amount of property.
But Thomas was a younger son, so his inheritance was a small plot of land with a good house. Nothing shabby, but very obscure.
A younger son marrying a younger daughter – a good solid match, but not advantageous to either. Aphra came with a dowry, but after all she was the eighth child. She didn’t bring land or title.
They had a bit to set them up, but they had to use it wisely.
There’s nothing to say how they made their decisions. Nothing to suggest they put their heads together and came up with a plan. But there’s plenty to suggest that Aphra was respected by her family for generations to come, so I think that’s what they did. Thomas may have suggested – and Aphra in conjunction with her father may have agreed – that Ireland was the land of opportunity.
At 32 years of age, Thomas Maunsell was retiring from a successful naval career. As his reward for services rendered he was granted the right to claim land in Ireland.
Ireland never was a truly safe place for a British settler, and in 1609 the British in charge were hard at work maintaining the tenuous law and order that they had. They were deeply suspicious of adventurers who might be there to stir up discontent, who might be spies for the wrong side – be that France or England or Scotland or the New Irish or the Old Irish.
Thomas Maunsell received letters of authorization which were copied and sent to all outposts and naval vessels. He clearly had this in his possession already at the time of marriage.
Here’s an excerpt from ‘The History of Maunsell’ by Robert George Maunsell. I’ve tidied it up for readability.
Thomas Maunsell, born 1577; matriculated. Mag. Hall, 1594, as a youth he distinguished himself against the Spanish Armada, and was subsequently a Captain in the Fleet. In the college books he is described as Thomas Maunsell, of Chicheley, Bucks, gent, late of Barnard's Inn; admitted 1599 to Gray's Inn. He retired from the naval service in 1609, and on 28th July of that year, as per order of Council, the Irish authorities received a command as follows: — "Whereas this gent, Captain Thomas Maunsell, is come into this Kingdom .. to take a view of the most convenient places for him to settle in .. to which end he has brought unto us letters of recommendation. These are therefore, to require every of you his Maties Officers, Mynisters, not only to permit the said Captain abovenamed with his servants peaceably and quietly to pass by you as he shall have occasion to search and enquire as aforesaid, but also to be aiding, comporting and assisting unto him with post horses and guides from place to place in his travels, and if need require, to give him the best knowledge and furtherance you may .. whereof you and every of you may not fail, as you will answer the contrary at your perils. Given at Melefont, this 28th July, 1609." Thomas Maunsell sold the estate at Newport-Pagnell left him by his father's will, and sailing for Ireland he landed at Waterford and settled at Derryvillane in the county of Cork.
The next stage of Aphra’s life is a matter of reading between the lines. According to the History of Maunsell, Thomas and Aphra had 23 children, of whom eleven lived to adulthood.
Burke, on the other hand, makes a very succinct reference in his Peerage books.
[The third son] Thomas, went to Ireland in 1609, and settled at Derryvolane, county Cork. He married Aphra, daughter of Sir William Crawford and dying about 1642 left, with other issue, Thomas, ancestor of the Maunsells of Limerick, and a son John.
Is one woman capable of producing 23 children, especially when she starts in her twenties? I’m guessing she didn’t.
In my own tree I have eleven named children:
And thus began the dynasty of Maunsell in Ireland. One of their sons – Thomas – is recorded as a 1649er who received extensive amounts of land after Cromwell’s victory.
To this point I’ve kept it all very simple, but anyone who has researched 17th Century Ireland knows that it isn’t. The records aren’t there. People moved all over the place. People moved away and came back ten years later. And you rarely find yourself dealing with just a nuclear family – if a family actually did build themselves a decent manor house, secured property and a steady income, all the extended family came over too.
As well as that, the kids married the neighbours. And their kids married other neighbours. It gets very messy to separate from family from another.
Plus there’s a third complication that people once didn’t understand: the various new colonies of the world were all peopled by the same important wealthy families. You have the same Warner family in Cork and Barbados, Benger and Nason in Waterford and Newfoundland and Philadelphia, French and Cole in Waterford and Maryland, Peard in Cork and Massachussetts and Newfoundland. Spotswood in Waterford and Virginia. And so on and so forth.
Interconnections are everywhere and a generation on, everyone was doing well for themself and feeling a bit of a fraud because their forebears weren’t as swanky as the people they were now mixing with. People became cagey about their genealogy. They exerted effort convincing the world that their position in society was completely legitimate.
The descendants of Thomas and Aphra Maunsell are just as hard to track as all the rest, but we’ve got an amazing advantage: Aphra’s first name.
Here are the women named Aphra in my tree so far.
It took me way too long to realise that nearly all the women named Aphra in those parts of Ireland are descendants of Aphra Crayford. They generally appear in the records in a very disembodied way.
For example, from Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland 1912:
“JOHN BROWN, of Bridgetown (Clonboy), Capt. Limerick Militia, married 1801 to Constance, 2nd daughter of Colonel William Odell, of The Grove, co. Limerick (M.P. for co. Limerick for thirty years, and a Lord of the Treasury), by Aphra his wife, daughter of John Crone, of Byblow, co. Cork.”
In the above excerpt there’s no clue that Constance’s mother Aphra Crone was a descendant of Thomas Maunsell and Aphra Crayford. It took a lot of reading and searching to track her back. To find that Aphra Crone’s paternal grandmother was Aphra Johnson, and that she in turn was the granddaughter of Aphra Maunsell, eldest daughter of Aphra Crayford. That’s a lot of generations to track through. But the connection was there.
I’ve made it my project over the last six months – track all the Aphras to see if they belong to that family.
There’s just one exception so far: Aphra Warren, the daughter of Anne Crayford and John Warren. She’s our Aphra’s niece and she was born in England.
There are also three women who I’ve not managed to trace: Aphra Benger born circa 1675, Aphra Aylmer born circa 1670, and Aphra Gaggin/Goggin/Gookin born circa 1780. But those three are in the same neighbourhood. It’s probably just a matter of time until their connection is found.
You find family names like that in genealogical research. Family names meant something. That was understood. You didn’t just pick a name for your daughter because it was pretty, not when it was a Maunsell family name and the Maunsells were moneyed and connected. It would look like you were stating a relationship, lying about a connection that didn’t exist. Some first names are as much part of the family property as the surname.
I’m speculating regarding this specific name Aphra, but people did treat names that way and it’s very clear that nobody else used it. That name wasn’t like Mary or Sarah or Elizabeth, not names from the bible that anyone might use. Aphra was very specific to that family.
And every new Aphra harkened back to the very first. Aphra Crayford, matriarch of the Maunsells, and of branches of Eatons, Naylors, Peacocks, Boles and Bowles, Downings, Hodders … and all the rest of those surnames showing in my list of women named Aphra.
Late in life, Thomas Maunsell became sick. He and Aphra returned to England where he passed away in 1646. Or 1642 by some counts. This meant that they weren’t in Ireland for the Rebellion of 1641. Either very luckily, or by design, since their sons were military men who might have realised where matters were heading.
I’ll quote ‘The History of Maunsell’ to conclude:
“Mrs. Maunsell having survived her husband returned to Ireland, and resided with her third son, Captain John Maunsell, at Ballyvoreen, near Caherconlish. She died prior to 1662, and her remains were interred in the chancel of the church at Caherconlish, where her son erected the following memorial, bearing that date: —
“Here lyeth the bodye of Aphra Maunsell, my dear mother, daughter of Sir Wm. Crayford, of Kent.“
She wasn’t buried alone. The memorial continues.
“Here also lyeth my dear wife, Mary Maunsell, daughter of Geo. Booth, Esq., of Cheshire. And of my sister, Aphra Peacock. And of her daughter, Anne Peacock.”
Aphra Crayford was my 11th great grandmother through her son Thomas, my 12th great grandmother through her daughter Anne and also through her daughter Catherine, and my 10th great grandmother through her son Boyle.
Burke’s Landed Families of Ireland 1826
Burke’s Genealogical History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland 1912 – Digitized copy
The History of Maunsell by Robert Maunsell, Digitized
The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Edward Hasted 1797 via Google books.
Baptism records Parish of Great Mongeham
Examination of Thomas Maunsell in the 1641 Depositions