William Gardiner

Lay Rector (rectorial impropriator) of Ewell
from 1594 until his death on 26 November 1597

The subject of this article may be identified in the following pedigree:-

Pedigree of Gardiner of Haling
Pedigree of Gardiner of Haling

In 1594*, William Gardiner acquired the Rectory and Parsonage together with one of the mills at Ewell from the brothers Henry and Nicholas Saunder. Details of the vendors may be found in the item "Batailles Manor and the Saunders family of Ewell" on this website.

The descent of the advowson and rectorial estate of Ewell was described by Edward Wedlake Brayley in 'A topographical history of Surrey', 1850, but his account contains some inaccuracies. In 1560 Queen Elizabeth had granted the rectory and church to Thomas Reve and George Evelyn, "to be held in chief by the service of a fortieth part of a knight's fee". Reve was an assistant clerk (deputy chamberlain of the receipt) in the Court of Augmentations of the King's Revenues [set up by Henry VIII to deal with lands and revenues from dissolved religious houses] and appears to have been named as a representative of the Crown. George Evelyn from Harrow perfected the making of gunpowder under a patent from Elizabeth I, became very wealthy from his monopoly, and embarked upon the acquisition of much real estate, including Long Ditton and Wotton in Surrey. [He was the grandfather of John Evelyn, the diarist.] Before 1577, however, Nicholas Saunders, the elder, had come into possession of the rectory.

During the period from 1584 to 1589 there was a petition signed by the parishioners of the parish of Ewell containing 'about half a thousand communicants', to Sir William More, requesting that their vicar Richard Williamson be granted the tithes and glebe, as the pension he enjoys under a composition of 1458 [see Brayley] and revised 40 years later, is now inadequate owing to the rise in prices which forces him 'to beg for his said living'. Any increase could be paid out of the 'parsonage fruits, which one Mr Saunders gentleman wholly reapeth'. Since Nicholas Saunder senior died in 1587 the reference could have been either to him or to one of his sons as named in the second paragraph above. The sale conditions mentioned in the endnote* probably arose from provisions for the widowed Margaret (nee Bostock) Saunder's dower: before 1592, she had taken up residence in a mansion 'scituate within Sainct Maryspittle without Baishopsgate, London'.

Later, the circumstances were the subject of critical comment by John Aubrey as noted below.**

Much of what has become known about William Gardiner was uncovered by the late Leslie Hotson in the course of his research for the publication of a book 'Shakespeare versus Shallow' in 1931. Hotson had found a petition for sureties of the peace entered in 1596 by William Wayte seeking protection from William Shakespeare, Francis Langley and others 'for fear of death'. As a result of subsequent investigations it was concluded that a dispute had arisen with Langley, as owner of the Swan playhouse in Paris Gardens, Southwark, and the actor Shakespeare for the action to be initiated by William Gardiner through his stepson Wayte. Dr Hotson went on to suggest that, in revenge, Shakespeare satirised Gardiner as Justice Shallow in Henry IV, Part Two and The Merry Wives of Windsor and Wayte as the fool Abraham Slender although his findings have been questioned by other scholars.

Arms of William Gardiner Esq Of Bermondsey
Arms of William Gardiner Esq Of Bermondsey

William Gardiner had been born in Bermondsey circa 1531 and went on to marry a widow, Frances Wayte nee Luce, in 1558. Operating as a property dealer and moneylender and engaging in various fraudulent activities, he cheated his wife's relatives (including his stepson Wayte) and many others to accumulate great wealth. After his first wife died in 1576 he married Margaret Roderey nee Lucas from Gloucester on 27 May 1582. He had been appointed a Justice of the Peace during 1580 and became High Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex, 1594/1595 (not that he was deemed honest, rather that he had sufficient assets to account for any default in accounting for money due to the Crown).

Gardiner was constantly on the lookout for potential dupes and had found one in the younger Nicholas Saunder, a spendthrift in need of ready money. In September 1588, Saunder approached Gardiner seeking a loan of £100 for six months at 10% but was persuaded to take a gelding valued at £18 and 'fourscore and two pounds more' on credit. Two days later, the horse was led from a stable in Southwark to another 'in the Spittle without Bishopsgate' [presumably at Mrs Margaret Saunder's house] where the animal died before it could be ridden. When the matter was taken to the Court of Requests, Gardiner's defence contained a suggestion that the creature's demise had been caused by 'want of meat, or by means of letting him blood'.

On 27 March 1585 the father, Nicholas Saunder, had purchased 'all that parke called Lagham alias Langham Parke' extending over 600 acres in Godstone. By 1592 the estate, which had been charged with an annuity of £50 in consideration of a lump sum of £500 paid by Richard Leech, was purchased for £2,000 from Nicholas Saunder, junior (who was said to have grown 'very prodigal ad unthrifty') by Gardiner. He used his position as Sheriff to manipulate the valuations of that estate and the Ewell rectory etc. to defraud Leech, of Sheffield in Fletching, Sussex, a rich squire who was destined to succeed to the shrievality [sheriff's office].

There is insufficient space here to detail the many other offences of William Gardiner, that included insulting and violent behaviour, for which he was imprisoned briefly, and perjury, but further particulars are contained in a section 'The Life of Justice Gardiner' of Dr Hotson's book - accessible via the link indicated above.

A funeral certificate at the College of Arms records that "William Gardyner being of the age of three score years and six departed this transitory life at his house at Barmesy Street in the County of Surrey...on Saturday the 26th of November 1597, from whence he was very worshipfully accompanied unto the parish church of Barmesey [Bermondsey] on Thursday the 22nd of December following.... The pennon of his arms was borne by Wm. Wayte his kinsman. The helm and crest by Tho. Lant, Windsor Herald. The coat of arms by Wm. Camden, Clarenceaux King of Arms, who directed the said funeral. The body borne by six of his own servants..." So, with pomp if not general mourning, Gardiner departed the stage.

His long and complex will, dated 26 September 1597, transcribed by Leslie Hotson, excluded his eldest surviving son, Thomas, whilst he remained a debtor. Of particular interest is mention of 'the reversion of the Parsonage of Ewell with all the appurtenances in the county of Surrey after the death of Mistress Saunders, widow' bequeathed 'unto William Gardiner my son, over and besides all such lands, tenements, and leases before me assured unto him in marriage with Mr Serjeant Yelverton's daughter'.

The rectorial estate subsequently passed down to the William Gardiner who died 1 January 1632 and was buried at Dailsford, Worcestershire [see pedigree above]. His son, William, born in 1631 'of Guiting Grange' (which had been purchased by the family in 1620), Guiting Power , Gloucestershire, was also buried at Daylseford, 30 December 1673. It appears to have been William of the next generation, born 1655 at Twining, Glos., who, whilst in occupation of Guiting Grange, agreed to sell Ewell rectory during 1690 - he was not interred at Daylesford until 26 April 1717.

Brian Bouchard © 2010
Member of Leatherhead and District Local History Society

* Close Roll, 35 Eliz. C54/1460 On the 10 March 1594, Henry Saunder of the Inner Temple, gentleman, and Nicholas Saunder of Ewell, esquire, (sons of the late Nicholas Saunder of Surrey, esquire), for £660 agreed to sell to William Gardiner, the younger, of Bermondsey, Surrey, gentleman, and William Waite of the same, yeoman, the Rectory and Parsonage of Ewell, and that water mill called 'the nether mill' with two closes adjoining, in reversion after the death of Margaret Saunder, widow of Nicholas Saunder, deceased. Provided that if the said Margaret should die before 13 March 1595, Gardiner and Waite on request shall re-grant the premises to Nicholas Saunder for £660 to hold until 13 March 1595 at the yearly rent of a peppercorn. Provided always that if the Saunders on 13 March 1595 shall pay to Gardiner and Waite £660 at the elder Gardiner's house in Bermondsey, this indenture shall be void and of none effect.

**John Aubrey remarks on the state of spiritual instruction at Ewell in a Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey, vol. ii. p. 242, pub.1718.
"It is a market-town, not much above 10 miles from London, in a Christian kingdom, and such a kingdom, where the all-saving Word of the everliving God is most diligently, sincerely, and plentifully preached; and yet amidst this diligence, as it were in the circle and centre of this sincerity, and in the flood of this plenty, the town of Ewell hath neither preacher nor pastor: for, although the parsonage be able to maintain a sufficient preacher, yet the living being in a layman's hand, is rented out to another for a great sum, and yet no preacher maintained there. Now the chief landlord out of his portion doth allow but £7 yearly for a reader; and the other, that doth hire the parsonage at a great rent, doth give the said reader £4 the year more, out of his means and courtesy; and by this means the town is served with a poor old man that is half blind, and by reason of his age can scarce read; for all the world knows that so small a stipend cannot find a good preacher books, and very hardly bread to live on, so that the poor souls dwelling there are in danger of famishing for want of a good preacher; for a sermon among them is as rare as warm weather in December or ice in July, both of which I have seen in England, but seldom."

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