30 July 2020

Sir Thomas More and his
many descendants in the
English Midlands and Cork

Sir Thomas More depicted in window on the south side at the east end of Saint Lawrence Jewry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Moore family of Moore Hall, near Castlebar, Co Mayo, claimed they were descended from Sir Thomas More, a ‘Man for All Seasons.’ Their family house, once part of the architectural landscape of Co Mayo, was designed by the Waterford architect John Roberts and was built in 1792-1795. But the house was burned down in 1923 by the IRA, although John Moore was the ‘President of Connacht’ during the 1798 Rebellion.

However, it is unlikely that either the Moores of Moore Hall, Thomas Moore, the Dublin-born songwriter, or any other Moore families in Ireland were descendants of Henry VIII’s executed chancellor and martyr, Thomas More (1478-1535).

Instead, there are some interesting connections between Saint Thomas Moore and the poet John Donne, as well as some prominent Midlands Catholic families of the 16th and 17th centuries who were in the same family networks as the Comberfords of Comberford Hall.

Indeed, the only verifiable Irish family connection with Thomas More that I could find was with a dubious pretender to an Irish title of baronet, whose family lived at Wolseley and in Lichfield before returning to live in Cork.

Thomas More was born in Milk Street, Cheapside, London, and was baptised in Saint Lawrence Jewry, where his father was later buried. His ancestry cannot be traced back further than his grandfather, William More, a baker, who died in 1469. Although it has sometimes been claimed the family’s ancestors came from Ireland, there is nothing to support or substantiate these claims.

His youngest sister, Elizabeth More (born 1482), was also born at Milk Street, London. She married John Rastell (1475-1536) of Coventry, and they were the grandparents of Elizabeth Heywood, whose first husband was John Donne (the elder). They, in turn, were the parents of the priest-poet John Donne (1572-1631), Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London.

The priest-poet John Donne … a sculpture at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thomas More was the father of three daughters and a son. Most accounts of his family tend to emphasise the story of his eldest daughter Margaret (1505-1544), who married William Roper (1498-1578) of Canterbury in 1521. The last male descendant of the Ropers was Edward Roper (1672-1707) who died of battle wounds, but his sister’s descendants in the Winn family have continued to live at Nostell Priory in Wakefield.

Thomas More’s only son, John More (1509-1547), was 27 when his father was executed, and was the father of eight children, including Thomas More (1531-1606), his eldest son, and the Revd Thomas More (1538-ca 1620), a priest in the Church of England, who lived in impoverished circumstances.

Thomas More (1531-1606), the martyr’s grandfather, eventually moved to Barnborough Hall, his mother’s ancestral home in Yorkshire, and was the father of 13 children. Again, some accounts claim he had a son John born in Ireland, but there is no evidence to substantiate this claim either. However, this Thomas’s seventh child, Katherine (1564-ca 1640), married Christopher Byrd, son of the Elizabethan composer and musician William Byrd.

The youngest son of this Thomas More, Cresacre More (1572-1648), initially trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood in Rheims, but returned to England when he eventually became the family heir.

Two of his daughters became Benedictine nuns, while the family line continued through his only son, yet another Thomas More (1607-1660). He consolidated the More family’s connections with the network of recusant families in the English Midlands when he married Mary Brooke (1608-1683), daughter of Sir Basil Brooke of Madeley in Shropshire.

Mary’s nephew, Thomas Brooke, was the father of Thomas Brooke of Wolverhampton, who married Anne Comberford, one of the two daughters of Robert Comberford of Comberford Hall, on 14 April 1675, and they were the parents of Captain Comberford Brooke of Comberford and Madeley.

Through this close kinship with the Brooke family, the first name Basil passed into the More family in successive generations.

The third son of Thomas and Mary (Brooke) More, yet another Thomas More, was born in 1635 and was the father of George More, who was born in 1666 and is said to have moved to Co Mayo and become the ancestor of the Moore family of Moore Hall. But this seems unlikely as the eventual heir was their sixth son, Basil More (1639-1702), who was the father of a large family of 24 children – we know the names of 18 of those children, and many of the 24 were either stillborn or died in infancy.

Many of the surviving children became priests, monks and nuns, but there are surviving descendants of other children, including the fourth child, Christopher Cresacre More (1666-1729), eventual heir, and the seventh child Thomas More (born 1671), ancestor of the Nicholson family of Barkston Hall, Yorkshire.

Basil More’s fourth child and eventual heir, Christopher Cresacre More (1666-1729), lived at Barnborough Hall. He was the father of three daughters and a son. The youngest daughter, Mary Waterton, was the grandmother of the adventurer and naturalist, Charles Waterton, a friend of Charles Darwin. The eldest daughter, Anne Binks, was the great-grandmother of William Bernard Ullathorne (1809-1889), a Benedictine monk and the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Birmingham from 1850.

Christopher Cresacre More’s only son, Thomas More (1691-1739) also married into the Midlands nexus of recusant families. His wife, Mary Catherine Giffard, was the eldest daughter of John Giffard of Black Ladies, near Brewood, Staffordshire, and a member of one of the leading recusant families in Staffordshire: Anne (Comberford) Brooke’s sister, married Thomas Giffard.

Their youngest child, Bridget, known in the family as Biddy, was twice married: she married her second husband, Robert Dalton of Thurnham Hall in Lancashire, in 1759 – she was his third wife. Bridget and Robert were the parents of three children, a son and two daughters. Their younger daughter, Bridget, married Sir James Trant Fitzgerald, who claimed to be the seventh baronet of Castle Ishen, Co Cork.

Needless to say, Sir James was no baronet and there was no title of baronet connected with Castle Ishen.

The title Sir James claimed was first conferred in 1640 on Sir Edmond Fitzgerald of Clenglish Castle, Co Limerick, on the site of the present Springfield Castle. Everyone believed the title had died down until 140 years later, when Richard Fitzgerald from Co Cork drew up a contrived and bizarre pedigree claiming descent from Sir Edmond Fitzgerald and convinced many in 1780 that he was the sixth baronet. His son, Sir Richard Fitzgerald, who called himself the seventh baronet, married Bridget Dalton, and through this marriage the Fitzgeralds inherited Thurnham Hall in Lancashire.

The couple were the parents of an only son, Sir James Fitzgerald (1791-1839), who claimed to be the eighth baronet. He lived for a while with his wife Augusta (Freemantle) at Maple Hayes Hall near Lichfield, and he was described as living at Wolseley Hall when he died on his way to Nice in 1839.

The widowed Lady Fitzgerald later moved from Lichfield to Co Cork, and their son, Sir James Fitzgerald (1831-1867), who called himself the ninth baronet, later changed his name to Dalton-Fitzgerald in acknowledgment of his descent from Thomas More. The claimed title died out with the death of his younger brother, Sir Gerald Richard Dalton-Fitzgerald (1832-1894), and when he died this line of descendants of Thomas More came to an end too.

The Annunciation stained-glass in the side aisle in Saint Mary Moorfields, London, is flanked by images of Saint Thomas Becket and Saint Thomas More (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

1 comment:

Jim said...

Love all that detailed research. A period of seismic change in the history of England with long-lasting affects to all the other kingdoms in the British Isles, Europe and the world.