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Perkins of Hillmorton, UK

Between 1475 and 1631, our Perkins ancestors lived in Hillmorton, Warwickshire, England. These individuals have been quite well documented through wills and church records, and this research appears quite accurate despite its age. If you look at the history of the time in the village of Hillmorton, the county of Warwickshire and the country of England, you can piece together a coherent story of their lives. Here are the five generations of the Perkins family line that are documented:

1.Thomas Perkins (1475 – 1528) & Alice (1481 – 1538), 3 known children
2.Henry Perkins (1500 – 1546) and Elizabeth, 3 known children
3.Thomas Perkins (1527 – 1591) & Alice Kebble (1527 – 1613), 8 known children
4.Henry Perkins (1555 – 1608) & Elizabeth Sawbridge (1564 – 1607), 15 known children
5a.Thomas Perkins (1582 – 1658) & Elizabeth, 5 known children
5b.John Perkins (1583 – 1654), our ancestor and brother of Thomas, left for America in 1631

Wills of the Perkins Family
Each of the families left a will (the first Henry left a will but it got lost). The language may be stilted and the spelling strange, but these wills provide the best description of their lives.

To the high altar, 8d… To the mother churches of Coventry and Lichfield, 4d. each… To the parish church of Hillmorton, 6s. 8d… To his wife Alice, all his lands and tenements in the towns of Fylds, Hillmorton and Lylborne [in Northamptonshire] as long as she continueth in widowhood. If she marry, Henry, his son, shall have the said lands and tenements, but if he die without lawful issue, they shall remain to Jone and Jelyan, his daughters, and their heirs. If they die without issue, the tail lands and tenements shall remain to the next heirs and the fee simple lands and tenements to the inhabitants of the town of Hillmorton for ever, to the best use that can be provided for the pleasure of God and for the health of his soul and all Christian souls.
My body to be buried within the parish church of Saint John the Baptist of Hillmorton aforesaid, my mortuary in main aisle. the high altar 12d…church of Hillmorton 6s 8d. Also to every one of my godchildren 2d. Also to Jane Sleyter my daughter a pair of flaxen sheets, a pair of hurden sheets, a flaxen table cloth, a hurden table cloth, a tawny gown, a vilet kirtle, an hairoin, 3 kerchiefs, a cow & a yearlin bullock, and also to Julia Compton my daughter a pair of flaxen sheets, a pair of hurden sheets, a flaxen table cloth, and hurden table cloth, my best gown, a birnett tawny kirtle, 3 kerchiefs, a pair of beds, a pot, a pan and my silvered harness girdle. The residue…I give unto Henry Perkins my son whim I make my sole executor…Make John Stokes, clerk, Thomas Clerk & Richard Smyth supervisors…witness: John Brendon, clerk, George Dobbs, William Freman, Thomas Dunkle, & Richard Bassett with diverse others. The inventory dated 10 Oct. 1538 amounted to £36 2s 1d.

Missing. An abstract of the will was made in 1894 that mentioned a son Thomas. This reference is now missing.
To John Perkyns my son and to the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten or to be begotten…my house in Hillmorton late occupied by Thomas Bassett, together with one orchard and a close lying on the back side, and one half-yard of arable land with meadows, pastures and commons thereto belonging… To Henry Perkins my eldest son all the residue of my houses, lands, tenements and hereditaments… Unto Alice my now welbeloved wife all my household stuff, furniture in the parlor or chamber where we used to lie (one coffer with his evidences excepted) and the use of the said chamber as long as she keepeth herself a widow…To William Perkins my son 10s…to Thomas Perkins my son 10s…unto my son Edward Perkins fortie pounds four years after my death…to my son Luke fortie pounds ten years after my death…to my son Isaac fortie pounds…to every of my son’s children a ewe and a young lamb…unto my brother Krebbles wife a ewe and a lamb… to Thomas Kebble, a lamb… to my brother William Perkins a ewe and a lamb…residue to Henry Perkins my son whom I make sole executor. The inventory amounted to £192 10s 0s
Administration on Henry’s estate was granted to his son Thomas on 5 Apr 1609. A bond was given for the tuition of Margaret, Edward, Anne (Agnes), Sarah, Francis, William, Lucy (Luke), Elizabeth, James (Jacob) and “the other children”. John was of age and married so he is not mentioned. Inventory was taken on 22 Mar 1608 by Rowland Wilcox, gentleman, and Thomas Perkins, John Sawbridge, Thomas Compton and William Burnam, yeomen. Henry’s estate amounted to £336 8s 8d.

To his wife Elizabeth £10 and a joined bed in the chamber over the old parlor. To his son Francis, £10, and to Francis’ son Francis, 30s. To his daughter Anne Hanslope, £5, and to all her sons and daughters 30s. each at age of 21. To his daughter Marie Bromich, £5, and to her sons and daughters 30s. each at age of 21. To the sons and daughters of his son Henry, such portions as his executors shall think fit to raise for them. Carts, plows, etc. to his grandson Thomas, heir of his son Henry, deceased, provided he help the executors to bring up his brothers and sisters. To the poor of Hillmorton, 20s. Residue to his sons Francis Perkins and Nicholas Hanslope, the executors. Overseer: Thomas Marriott gentleman. Codicil, Oct. 1658: Thomas Perkins gave the £5 given to his daughter Anne Hanslope, who had died, to her children.

Putting the Pieces Together
Hillmorton is a small village near Rugby. Two key institutions that were influential to this town were the manor and its associated Church of St. John the Baptist, both originally controlled by the Astley family. The church still stands. The manor is gone. To understand the lives of the Perkins family let’s start by looking at some significant events of Tudor/Stuart time, followed by a look at many aspects of Tudor/Stuart life.

A Time Line of Historical Events

MIDDLE AGES 1154 -1485
1265Thomas de Astley obtains the grant of a weekly market on Saturday in Hillmorton
1485Henry Tudor defeats Richard III to become Henry VII
TUDOR PERIOD 1485-1603
1509Henry VIII succeeds to throne after death of Henry VII
1534Henry VIII becomes supreme head of Church of England. Dissolves monasteries
1548Nine year old Edward VI becomes king after death of Henry VIII
1553Mary becomes queen after death of Edward VI. Moves country back to Catholicism
1558Elizabeth I becomes queen after death of Mary, considered a time of prosperity
1603James I of Scotland accedes to crown after death of Elizabeth I
1607Midland Revolt in Warwickshire, including Hillmorton, with husbandman protesting the increasing enclosing of land
1620Pilgrims to America
1625Charles I becomes king after death of James I
1631John and Judith (Gater) Perkins to America on ship Lyon
1633In Hillmorton, Mary Astley “said to be responsible to the decay of fifteen houses and 250 acres of arable land”.
1636Isaac Perkins, uncle to John Perkins to America, settling in Ipswich.
1642Start of English Civil War

Class Structure
The Aristocrasy sat at the top of the social heap. This included the King, Queen, Dukes, Earls, Baron. Title was passed to the oldest son. The others moved to the gentry class keeping the aristocracy a managable size for the monarch to control. The aristocracy don’t show up in Hillmorton but their influence was vast. Religion, laws, wars were largely decided and controlled at this level.

Gentry class, were the roughly 5% of the upper crust. They were represented by large landholders, clergy, merchants and the well educated. They are the class that could bear a coat of arms and carry swords. For this privilege they were expected to pay fees to the Monarchy. In return, they were included in the Parliament where policy and laws were set. Within the Gentry class there were many different strata, from Knight, Baronet, Esquire down to Gentleman. As the name implies the, “landed gentry” held a lot of land they used to generate income.  Title also passed to the eldest son with the other sons taking lesser gentry titles by joining the military, university or church.

In the case of Hillmorton, the Astley family rested at the top of the social order. Thomas Astley was a knight who was granted Hillmorton land in 1265. At that time he was allowed by the aristocracy to provide a fair which was a additional means to generate income. When he married his second wife, Edita Constable, he acquired even more land located in Constable Melton. At that point the headquarters for the family moved there. Hillmorton manor was inhabited by esquires and gentlemen of the Astley family.

Yeomen were the middle class farmers. They owned land, which they passed to their family. They could also accumulate (and lose) wealth. If a yeoman became prosperous enough, he could become a gentleman, but many chose to remain yeoman regarding it preferable (and cheaper) to be a highly regarded yeoman than a low ranking gentleman. In a small town like Hillmorton, the yeomen and the gentry would mingle in church settings or business transactions

By all accounts the Perkins families of Hillmorton were of the yeomen class. The wills indicate that they owned land. The first Thomas Perkins referenced property across several counties, a possible clue to his ancestry. The second Thomas Perkins leased some of his farmland and raised sheep.

Husbandmen, Laborers
Husbandmen were simple farmers, considered a step below yeomen. They rented the land to farm, and were beholden to gentry and yeomen for their living. Labourers and peasents were considered the bottom of the social order.

Hillmorton was a farming community. To describe the economics, it important to understand the phenomena of “enclosures”. As mentioned above, most of the land was controlled by landed gentry. Originally they generated revenue by renting portions to yeomen, husbandmen and laborers to raise crops. Over time, the wealthy wanted more direct control to improve profitability of their land. This produced incentives to enclose the land and destroy existing homes and communities, causing much distress with the masses. Beginning in 1489, laws were passed in Warwickshire in an attempt to preserves land and villages. Additional “Commissions of Inquiry” were formed in 1515 and 1548, but depopulation continued as evidenced by the 1607 Midland Revolt where 3000 individuals gathered in Hillmorton to protest. One account places the blame with Mary Astley (likely Mary (Waldegrave) Astley, widow of Isaac) for enclosing 750 acres. However, her penalty was small (£40), and enclosing continued because Mary Astley was again accused of enclosing 250 acres in 1639.

Yeomen, too, could benefit from enclosure, depending on their abilities as businessman. They could engage in small acts of enclosing, and they could acquire additional land from other landholders.  There are several clues that the Perkins families were successful yeomen. First, the value of their estates increased with time. Second, the will of the second Henry Perkins is interesting because it focuses on education, a pursuit associated with the gentry. Finally, the will of the third Thomas Perkins, oldest brother to John Perkins, describes himself as a “gentleman” when he died. Since he was the oldest male, he would have likely inherited the bulk of the estate.

Living Conditions in Warwickshire
Now, a commentary about home life in Warwickshire during the Tudor and Stuart Periods. According to “A History of Warwickshire”, a very readable history of the county by Terry Slater,  yeomen and prosperous husbandmen possessed houses with a hall and bed-chamber and perhaps a kitchen but no upper floor rooms while gentry and wealthy yeomen, lived in homes with kitchens, parlors and upstairs bedrooms. In his will the third Thomas Perkins leaves his widow “a joined bed in the chamber over the old parlor”, a description of some prosperity.  Slater also indicates that the common style of the time is a “cruck” home. Surviving examples can be found in villages near Warwickshire in towns like Stoneleigh. One can imagine that the Perkins families would have been able to upgrade as their prosperity grew by increasing the size of their cruck, adding glass windows and cooking under an attached chimney.

The will of Alice Perkins talks about her important possessions including flaxen and hurden sheets, a tawny gown, a vilet kirtle, hairoin, a birnett tawny kirtle, and silvered harness girdle. Translation is difficult, but here goes: flaxen is a soft cloth, hurden is a coarse linen, vilet is the color violet, tawny is a light tan color, burnett tawny is a dark tan color, harness girgle is a type of belt that fits around the waist, kirtle is a long medieval dress,  and hairoin refers to a hairpin. Alice sounds like a yeoman’s wife with clothes of simple brown fabrics with a few nice accessories: purple fabric, the hairpin and the silver belt.

The nicest home in town was Hillmorton manor owned by the Astleys. That building is gone. Slater suggests these older manor houses resembled a large stone farm house. A possible glimpse is provided in a 1707 drawing of Melton Constable that illustrates its original manor house as a 7 bay building.  The Hillmorton property stayed in the Astley family until it was sold by Edward Astley in 1772. Other wealthy businessman owned the manor until it eventually decayed into ruin, and was replaced by a series of row houses.

In terms of religion, the country started as Catholic, then moved to Protestant with Henry VIII. However, there were always factions within Warwickshire including active pockets of Catholics, Quakers and Puritans. The Puritans, specifically, were a hard line group that felt that the Church of England represented too much compromise with the Catholic church. In Hillmorton, there are no signs that St. John the Baptist was Puritan, but there was a vibrant Puritan movement nearby. A short 7 mile distance into the county of Leicestershire, Benjamin Childe, a puritan, was assigned in 1625 to the Rectory of Cotesbach. Francis Higginson, became the first minister of Salem after his arrival to Massachusetts in 1629. He had been a Claybrooke, Leicestershire minister (located 12 miles from Hillmorton) during his conversion to Puritanism.

The Perkins family was always prominent in the church. Several wills specified donations to the church. Even today, you can see a references to the Perkins family in the form of a posted Charity plaque inside the church and gravestones outside. More interestingly, in 1665  two prominent plaques were observed inside the church, one of which read:

Here lyeth Thomas Perkins and Alice and Elizabeth.
Our Lord save their soules from everlasting death.” Amen.

As a side note, it’s not quite clear to whom that plaque refers. Is Elizabeth a daughter or a second wife to Thomas? Also, most researchers attribute the plaque to the first Thomas and Alice Perkins (date circa 1540), and therefore speculate that Alice or Elizabeth may have been related to the Astley family. However, the second Thomas and Alice Perkins may be as likely around 1620. The other plaque refers to Richard and Margaret Tant, a surname which surfaces around 1605 in Hillmorton Parish records.

The reign of Elizabeth I was considered a time of relative peace. After her death, tensions rose in the county with Kings James I and Charles I trying  to monopolize power by ignoring their Parliament (a collection of the landed gentry) who provided financial support to the crown in return for their advice on laws. On one side there were the Parlimentations, the “Roundheads”, who were primarily Puritan versus the Royalist, or “Cavaliers” who backed the Church of England. Ultimately, the English Civil War was waged in 1642 with Warwickshire in the center of the warring sides. The Astley family were bitterly divided. Jacob Astley (son of Isaac and Mary Astley), who had joined the military, became trusted major for King Charles I. It is said that the Roundheads sharpened their swords on the church effigy of Edward Astley on their way to defeat Jacob in the battle of Naseby. On the other hand, Jacob’s eldest brother, Thomas, baronet of Hillmorton, had two sons who fought for the Parliamentarians. Although John Perkins had left for America in 1631, these same tensions may have contributed to his decision to leave Hillmorton. As a yeoman, picking sides in this dispute was difficult. Although it would appear that John Perkins would have joined the Roundheads, other members of this family could have sided with the Cavaliers if it was in their economic self interest.

The wills suggest that the Perkins family can be considered solid yeomen who benefited under the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  This prosperity lead to some rather large families for the second Thomas Perkins (8 surviving sons) and his son Henry (7 surviving sons), a potential problem for sons of a low birth right. The Midland Revolt further points to land being an increasingly scarce commodity due to continued enclosure in the region. The Puritan movement gave a voice of protest against the status quo of the government policies and its Church of England that ultimately led to the English Civil War.

Given these conditions in England, America would be a very tempting move for the right family. In the case of the Perkins family, two are documented. John Perkins (our ancestor) was first in 1631 on the ship Lyon. Isaac Perkins, uncle to John, arrived later around 1636. However, it was not a mass exodus since most family members remained. Even today, the church holds many references to those Perkins family that continued to prosper in the region.