Nicholas Saunder, the younger, (1563 - 9 February 1649)

of the Manor of Batailles in Ewell, Surrey,
receiver of stolen goods and alleged thief;
subsequently knighted

Nicholas Saunder described

In his article 'the Owners Of The Manor Of Batailles To The End Of Its Tenure By The Saunder Family' published in Surrey Archaeological Collections Volume 54, 1955, Michael L. Walker provides much information about the Nicholas Saunder who is the subject of this article: -
"The eldest son of Nicholas Saunder and his wife Isabel was named Nicholas. He matriculated at Balliol College at the age of 18 in 1581, two years before his younger brother Henry and likewise, according to Foster's Alumni Oxonienses, preceded Henry to the Inner Temple, both sons thus followed the profession of their father [Inner Temple Admissions - Nicholas (1) admitted 11 May 1557, Nicholas (2), 8 February 1583, & Henry, 1 February 1590]. In the summer of 1585 the list of certified recusants of Ewell included "Mr. Nicholas Saunder gent, the younger and his wife." Nicholas was then only 22 and had already married Elizabeth, the daughter of Richard Blunt, who had owned property in Lambeth. Nicholas was mentioned as a recusant "now to be dealt with" in 1586, but not subsequently. He succeeded to his father's property at the end of the following year (except that which was left for life to Margaret, his stepmother, who was granted the Manor of Batailles) and at once embarked upon a parliamentary career for which he had to conform to the Established Church and submit to the Oath of Supremacy. The sentence in his father's will that to Lord Burghley's "honorable favour, direction and protection I doe comend and comitt my said sonne Nicholas" may have influenced this change of face of Nicholas Saunder junior. The change was complete by January 1591-2, when Lord William Howard, Sir William More and Sir Francis Carew (uncle of Nicholas) informed the Privy Council that Nicholas Saunder was a member of the Surrey Commission for the detection and suppression of the Jesuits. Howard, More and Carew declared that all the ten members of the Surrey Commission were sound and well affected in religion to God and devoted in all duty to the service of Her Majesty. The report to the Privy Council had to disclose whether any of the Commissioners' wives were recusants; no comment was made on any of this report. It is therefore surprising to read in a Declaration of the Knights and Burgesses of Surrey: "And lykewise Sir Nicholas Saunders a Justice of the peace alsoe of the Countye, that ordinarilye he Comethe to the churche and is not suspected anye waye to be popishe, but his wife is of a popishe disposition as we are credibly ynformed."

This document is undated, but must have been written after Nicholas was knighted in 1603.It was easier for Elizabeth Saunder to adhere to the Catholic religion than for her husband, since women papists were not liable to imprisonment and did not suffer the heavy penalties and loss of property to which their husbands were exposed.

Nicholas Saunder was Member for Penrhyn, Cornwall, in the Parliament of 1588-9. Subsequently he is recorded as representing the Cornish boroughs of St. Ives in 1593, Helston in 1597-8 and Lostwithiel in 1601. He was also credited with representing Haslemere in the Parliament of 1593. This Parliament lasted less than three months, and it may be that he sat for either St. Ives or Haslemere and that in the other constituency a writ was issued for a by-election, which was never held on account of the short duration of that Parliament. Subsequently he represented Gatton from 1604 to 1611 and finally Winchelsea in 1626.


[As mentioned in the piece about Batailles Manor - Sir Nicholas was one of the promoters of a scheme, involving a lottery, introduced in 1628 for supplying London with water carried in a conduit from springs near Hoddesdon, Herts. He 'like many other adventurers, sunk all his fortune'. It is presumed that a need to cover losses from the water venture led to the sale of his mansion at Ewell during 1638.]

Isabella Twysden provides the epilogue to her father's long life, which began early in Elizabeth's reign and ended ten days after Charles I was executed. Isabella's diary describes how in the wintry weather of February 1649, the old man died at his house in Nonsuch Park. She says that he was buried "by torch lights" at Ewell by the side of his wife. Sir Nicholas Saunder made no will; Dudley Ward said that Sir Nicholas was ultimately ruined and that his children inherited his heraldic distinctions but nothing else. This was an exaggeration, for his son sold Batailles Manor and 40 acres in 1659. If this were the only inheritance which Henry received from his father it was a pittance by comparison with the property that Sir Nicholas had inherited in 1587."

Saunder's association with Dr John Dee (1527 - December 1608) - 'The Queen's Conjurer'

John Dee had a local link to Bartholomew Fromond(s) of the manor of East Cheam and took his daughter Jane Fromond for a second wife on 5 February 1577/8.

Mr Walker's account omits any reference to young Nicholas' connection with Dr John Dee, mathematician and necromancer; a devotee of crystal gazing, alchemy, astrology etc., who was commonly suspected in his time of holding intercourse with the dead. Queen Elizabeth I frequently summoned Dee for consultations, as her 'adviser' on scientific matters during much of her reign. Full details of his life may be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National; Biography accessible via the Surrey Libraries website. There it is remarked: -
"Within months of his departure [in 1583] the house [at Mortlake where he lived] was raided and many of his books and instruments were stolen or damaged. The culprits can be identified as former associates of Dee - John Davys the navigator and Nicholas Saunder (perhaps a former pupil) ..."
According to Aubrey, Dee 'was a great peace-maker; if any of the neighbours fell out, he would never lett them alone till he had made them friends. He was tall and slender. He wore a gowne like an artist's gowne, with hanging sleeves, and a slitt. A mighty good man he was. He had a very fair, clear, sanguine complexion, a long beard as white as milke. A very handsome man.' The perpetrators of the attack on Dee's home and destruction of some of his scientific instruments are generally identified as forming a mob of the lower class acting upon superstitious fears. In his later years, John Dee had become connected with Edward Kelley, a man of questionable ethics later found to be a fraud who was the medium or scryer in Dee's communication with angels. Their activities were the main cause of Dee's less than favourable reputation towards the latter part of his life. Having gained a reputation as a magician or sorcerer, able to speak to angels and spirits and to see into the future, a group seems to have become intent on destroying any apparatus that might be used to conjure up spirits.

John Dee had needed to mortgage his house to his brother-in-law Nicholas Fromond to finance the journey abroad. On return to his home in 1589, after six years on the Continent, he was dismayed to discover his library, laboratory and significant collection of scientific instruments, including clocks, telescopes and a sea compass as well as his crystal balls and magic mirrors, had been plundered. The instruments including a valuable quadrant, which measured five feet in semi-diameter, the 'watch which measured the 360th part of an houre', and 'many rare and exquisite instruments mathematicall', all had been purloined or 'barbariously spoyled, and with hammers smitt in pieces'. Laboratory vessels and concoctions were broken and looted. An estimated 500 volumes had been taken from his extensive library.

Many of the pillagers of Dee's library in his absence do seem to have been people known to him, who would have been well aware of the monetary value of his holdings. He attributed the spoliation, mainly to John Davis, noting a catalogue now held by Trinity College - 'J Davis spoyle' (Alhazen perspectiva, &c.) or "Jo. Davis toke (wth. others) by violence out of my howse after my going'. Nicholas Saunder was not named as one of the 'others', nor was he amongst persons from whom books were recovered. In 1592, blame for the loss of 'household stuff ' was cast on Nicholas Fromond who had been charged with its safe custody - 'But he unduely sold it presently upon my departure, or caused it to be carried away'.


John Davis

Davis otherwise Davys, mentioned above, (born c. 1550, at Sandridge, near Dartmouth, Devon, died Dec. 29/30, 1605, off Bintan Island, near Singapore), was an English navigator who in 1583 had proposed a plan to look for the Northwest Passage to Sir Francis Walsingham principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I. John Dee recorded in his private diary for that year: - 'Jan. 24th, I, Mr. Awdrian Gilbert*, and John Davis went by appointment to Mr. Secretary to Mr. Beale his howse, where onely we four were secret, and we made Mr. Secretarie privie of the N.W. passage, and all charts and rutters were agreed uppon in generall.'


Nicholas Saunder 'in possession'

There is evidence of Saunder having been a receiver of some of the stolen goods. Many of the works taken from Dee's library subsequently resurfaced with Dee's signature removed and replaced or written over by Nicholas Saunder. [A number are in the holdings of the Dorchester Library at the Royal College of Physicians which have the name of 'Joannes Dee' bleached out and the inscription 'Nich. Saunder' substituted. Such books are found not only in the library which Henry Pierrepont, Marquess of Dorchester (1606-1680) left to the College of Physicians in 1687 or 1688 but also among the books of Archbishop William Wake (1657-1737) at Christ Church, Oxford. Since they have been variously dated, to 20 Augusti 1583, 1584, 1585, 1586, 1587, 1588 and 1589 (altered from 1559), it seems evident that they were obtained after the sack of Dee's house at Mortlake in 1583. Either they were acquired piecemeal or Saunder intended to give that impression.]

John Florio [Link to Wikipedia] had matriculated from Magdalen in 1581, the day after Saunder at Balliol, 'and was a teacher and instructor of certain scholars in the university. In his book 'Seconde Frutes', published in 1591, he wrote that his first patron, Leicester, whom 'every miscreant does strike, being dead,' had been succeeded by one Nicholas Saunders of Ewell. The Dedication read: -
Second Frutes, to be gathered of Twelve Trees, of Divers but delightsome tastes to the tongues of Italians and Englishmen. To which is annexed his Gardine of Recreation yeelding six thousand Italian Proverbs.To the right worshipfull, the kinde entertainer of vertue, and mirrour of a good minde Master Nicholas Saunder of Ewel, Esquire, his devoted John Florio Congratulates the rich reward of the one, and lasting beautie of the other and wisheth all felicitie els.
In his Diary, for March 30th 1592, John Dee recorded: - 'on Thursday Mr. Saunders of Ewell sent home my great sea cumpas, but without a nedle; it cam in the night by water'. Presumably the compass had lost its pointer during the assault on Dee's possessions and the instrument would have been readily identifiable as having been stolen.


The Compendious Rehearsal

On 9 November 1592, Dr John Dee made his supplication to Queen Elizabeth at Hampton Court and it was read to two Royal Commissioners in his home at Mortlake a fortnight later.


The Deceit

One of the books believed to have come into Nicholas Saunder's possession out of John Dee's library had been dated 20 Augusti 1583 as noted earlier. Dee's party did not leave Mortlake until 21 September1583 and the mob, prejudiced against him as a sorcerer, is thought to have broken into his house immediately after departure. The earlier date could well have been entered by Saunder to suggest his acquisition had been earlier than the looting.


Saunder family books

Other surviving documents from his library were evidently inherited by Nicholas Saunder from earlier generations, for example : -
1. In an illuminated manuscript, The Wilton Psalter written for use at Wilton Abbey, c1250, appears 'Protestatum sit omnibus visuris quod ego Willelmus Saunder denego et abrenuncio nomini paptiste extra totum istum librum'. It also bears on the fly leaf a note: 'This was my great grandmother's father's booke, and therefore for the antiquityes sake, I keepe it. Nich. Saunder'.
2. Roman Missal. 8vo., vellum, 14th century, imperfect at the end, where by a 16th century hand is the following note. 'Codex iste est Nicholai Saunderi ex dono Guilielmi Aglami clerici, precium novi cooper. xd.' Then follows ' At ego Nich. Saunder predicti is Nicholai filius non dedissem obolum: proh quae caecitas temporum praeteritorum cum prudentes occaecabantur. Faxit deus ut nos non inveniamur ingrati pro salutifero Evangelii lumine recepto.Nich. Saunder.'
The Latin transcribed above is uncertain but its sense has kindly been rendered by Isabel Sullivan, Archivist at Surrey History Centre, as follows: -
1) The Wilton Psalter : 'Let it be asserted to all who see this, that I William Saunder deny and renounce any charge of Papistry outside of this book '
2) The Roman Missal: 'This codex is Nicholas Saunder's, from the gift of William Aglam, clerk, price of new copy, 10d. But I Nicholas Saunder, who am son of the said Nicholas, would not have given a halfpenny: ah, the blindness of times past, when the wise were without sight. God has made it that we shall not be found unfit to receive the saving light of the Gospel'.

These notes seem to reflect the shifting religious views of Nicholas Saunder under the circumstances outlined by Mr Walker in his paragraph with which this piece was opened.

*Sir Adrian Gilbert (c1541 - 1628) of Sandridge, Dartmouth, was a younger half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1583, he obtained from Queen Elizabeth I a patent for the discovery of a Northwest passage to China, to remain in force five years, by the title of The Colleagues of the Fellowship for the Discovery of the Northwest passage [http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=68612 ].

Brian Bouchard November 2012



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