"The Wakes of Blisworth"

A talk given in Blisworth Village Hall [1] by Sir Hereward Wake on 28th March 2003.

[Sir Hereward's text has been supplemented with some hyperlinks]


Over 700 years ago my great, great, gr . . . grandfather Sir Hugh Wake of Bourne in Lincolnshire inherited in 1265 the Manor of Blisworth. He lived in a manor house, long since fallen down, just near the Church. It had a park and a warren. He already held lands at Deeping near Bourne, and in Guernsey. Due to marrying heiresses the family in the course of time owned Liddel in Cumberland, Clevedon in Somerset, Wake's Colne and Waltham Abbey and Nazeing in Essex, Clifton Reynes and Chicheley in Buckinghamshire, Riddlesworth in Suffolk and lands in Derbyshire and Kent. And not least Collingtree and Courteenhall in Northamptonshire.

But Blisworth was the family's main base. Both Sir Hugh's grandfather Baldwin and grandson Sir Thomas were Patrons of the Living of Blisworth and appointed the earliest recorded Rector in 1272. We lived there for 258 years. Sadly in 1523 Thomas Wake who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London for his misdeeds, sold Blisworth.

Over the following 475 years the family owned land at Piddington, Preston Deanery, Hartwell and Salcey Forest, finally inheriting Courteenhall which has been our home for the last 11 generations of Wakes including our son Charles aged 50 and his two sons now both at Universities.

The remarkable thing about the family is that, astonishingly, we have archives going back nearly 1000 years to the time when Hereward the Wake who owned Bourne defied William the Conqueror on the Isle of Ely, About 30 generations all succeeded through the male Wake line from father to son and all of whom were Northamptonshire or Lincolnshire Squires.

But it is about Blisworth I talk to you tonight, so I only just touch on some of the earlier Wakes before Sir Hugh. His great, great grandfather died in 1172 having founded the Abbey at Bourne and the Priory at nearby Deeping. We continued being Lords of the Manor of Bourne for about 450 years. Surprisingly we are still Lords of the Manor of Deeping.

Sir Hugh's father also named Hugh, fought alongside King Henry II in Brittany in 1230. He was the first bearer of our Wake coat of arms. Our crest then was a black lion, the Wake Knot being an even older family badge. He went on the Crusade to the Holy Land with Simon de Montford where he built a castle at Ascalon near Gaza which still bears our Coat of Arms today. He died there in 1241.

Sir Hugh died in 1315. He was a Knight of the Shire and represented Northamptonshire in 7 Parliaments. His elder brother Baldwin, probably born at Blisworth, did not inherit. His son, the 1st Lord Blisworth, defended the Scottish frontier on behalf of the King and lived in the stronghold of Liddel Castle in Cumberland.

After Hugh there were 6 generations of Thomas Wakes all of whom owned Blisworth, all father to son nearly all of whom inherited young and died young after playing important parts in Northamptonshire.
Sir Thomas Wake I, ie. the first, married Elizabeth Cransley from Kettering. He was a Knight of the County, the Kings Chief Falconer and Sheriff in 1329 and again in 1335. He was the King's chief representative in the County. No local government e.g. County or District Councils. There were no Lords Lieutenant until Henry VIII's reign. Since 1329 there have been 12 occasions when Wakes have been Sheriffs of Northamptonshire.

While Chief Officer of the Crown, Thomas revived the appointment of Justices of the Peace which had been dormant for 45 years. He gave judgment on that important occasion In the Great Hall of Northampton Castle. He was a distinguished soldier. He took 200 Archers to France in 1345 and fought with the Black Prince son of King Edward III at Crecy. The Black Prince was married to Joan Baroness Wake the "Fair Maid of Kent". He died in 1346 during the Siege of Calais.

His son Sir Thomas Wake II married Alice, a daughter of Sir John Pattishall. He was summoned to Parliament as a baron in 1341. Amongst his duties in Northamptonshire he was a Justice of the Peace. He died in 1379.  His son Thomas Wake III married Maud, sister of Sir John Pigot. He died only 4 years after his father in 1383.  Thomas Wake IV married Margaret Philpot and died in 1425.

Thomas Wake V was born in 1402. Thomas was known as The Great Wake owning a huge number of Manors including Blisworth, Collingtree and Milton Malsor; and Manors in Lincolnshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Kent. He succeeded his father aged 23, married aged 30 Agnes Lovell of Clevedon in Somerset which remained in the family for about 170 years until about 1600 Sir Baldwin Wake, the 1st Baronet, sold it.

The Great Wake was Sheriff of Northamptonshire on 3 occasions and was a Justice of the Peace for Northamptonshire and Somerset and served in the Parliament at Winchester 1449. There is a seal of his in the British Museum, dated 1429, depicting the lion crest on his helmet together with the Wake Knot badge. He died in 1459 aged 56 and was succeeded by his son.

Thomas Wake VI was born in 1435. He too inherited aged 23 and was Sheriff on two occasions in 1461 and 1463. His cousin Richard Wake was Rector of Blisworth 1462 - 1475. Thomas died in 1476. He married Elizabeth Beauchamp, a daughter of the Earl of Warwick. She was 20 years older than him.

His son Roger Wake born 1452, was important. He inherited Blisworth from his father, aged 24, in the reign of Edward IV. He married Elizabeth Catesby of Ashby St Legers. He was Sheriff on two occasions. He founded a Free School in Blisworth; I wonder where it was?

He lived to the age of 51 during difficult times when the Yorkist and Lancastrian families were fighting the Wars of the Roses contending for the throne. King Edward IV had died in 1483 and his brother Richard, Duke of York, had his young nephews murdered in the Tower and crowned himself King Richard III. Two years later at the Battle of Bosworth Field, Henry Tudor the Lancastrian heir to the throne who had been in exile for 14 years, defeated and killed Richard. The King was supported by Roger Wake and Roger's father-in-law Richard Catesby who was Chancellor of the Exchequer and Speaker of Parliament. Catesby was subsequently beheaded at Leicester. Roger luckier than his father in law was imprisoned, and had his lands forfeited.

By Act of Parliament Roger's lands were later restored to him. He lived until 1503. His and his wife's tomb in Blisworth Church, which I restored in 1988, bears the family's shields and Wake Knots. Set in the purbeck marble top are fine brasses depicting Roger in armour with an apron of mail, spurs and a long sword. He is bare headed with long hair. Elizabeth is dressed in a flowing robe with an ornamental girdle and fur cuffs and wears a pedimental cap with a veil on her head. Their 7 sons are in loose gowns and the 3 daughters are shown with gowns and also with long hair.

The surrounding inscription is damaged but reads: "Here lyeth Roger Wake Esquyer Lord of Blisworth in the Counte of Northampton and Elizabeth his wife which Roger Decessyed the XVI day of Marche the yere of our Lord God MCCCCCIII on whose soule have mercy".

In his will land in Buckinghamshire was sold thereby endowing a priest to pray each year in the Lady Chapel at Blisworth for him and his wife Elizabeth and his many Wake forebears, previously buried there.

After the Battle of Bosworth the family's fortunes steadily declined.

Roger's son, another Thomas succeeded. He married Isobel Sapcotes from Burley on the Hill in Rutland. Shortly after his father's death "by reason of certain trespass he had done" Thomas was sent to the Tower and his life was in peril. His mother Elizabeth continued to live at Blisworth and by means of bribery managed to get him released and pardoned.

By 1515 Thomas had sold Collingtree; and 8 years later in 1523 disposed of Blisworth to Sir Richard Knightley of Fawsley, thus ended our long association with Blisworth. He died in 1536. There is a plaque on the wall of an ancient church which reads: "Here lies Sir Tom but do not think it odd. Not earth to earth but sod to sod. Surely for miscreants such as this, Hell was created bottomless". His son and then his grandson, both Thomas's continued to own Bourne and Deeping in Lincolnshire, until these two ancient Wake possessions were sold in 1574 to William Cecil Lord Burghley, at Stamford, in Queen Elizabeth's reign.

Because of Thomas' disgrace the chief of member or head of the family fell to his younger brother Richard Wake who lived at Hartwell and continued to own Clevedon in Somerset. His first wife Dorothy Dyve had 18 children. His second wife Margaret was a daughter of the Marquess of Dorset. Richard and his two wives all lie buried beneath an ancient tomb in Roade Church.

Though our Wake ownership of Blisworth had ended, the family continued to live nearby.

John Wake, born 1519, lived at Piddington, His daughter Magdalene married Richard Ousley of Courteenhall. John was in charge of Salcey and Whittlewood Forests and petitioned for extra hay for the deer. He contributed 25 towards the cost of opposing the Spanish Armada in Queen Elizabeth's reign. He is recorded by the Privy Council of settling a dispute with his neighbour John Fermor of Easton Neston. He died in 1572.

His grandson Sir Baldwin Wake was born in 1574. At the age of 40 he succeeded to Piddington and Clevedon from his father. He married at St Margaret's Westminster, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir George Digby of Warwickshire, in 1621 King James II made him one of the earliest baronets.

Finally he lived at Hartwell and died in 1628, greatly in debt. His eldest son John the 2nd Baronet had to sell Clevedon in 1630. He was lieutenant and forester of Salcey Forest and fined on several occasions for misdeeds and made insolvent. A loyal Royalist in the Civil War - the family further declined.

The next five baronets, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th lived mostly at Hartwell and Piddington but like their predecessors married heiresses and brought additional properties to the family, including Riddlesworth in Suffolk. Then in 1672, 371 years ago, the family inherited Waltham and Nazeing in Essex and Courteenhall.

Nine succeeding Baronets 6th to 14th including me, have lived there now for over 277 years during which time we have produced Admirals, a General, an Archbishop of Canterbury, an Ambassador and High Sheriffs.

For the last five generations we have used the name 'Hereward'. My father, when a boy, used to say the Lord's Prayer thus: "Our Father who Art in Heaven, "Hereward" be Thy Name. . ."


1. The meeting was arranged by Jayne Frost for the Heritage Society.