Blogging serendipity

Natalie at Philobiblon yesterday posted a little nugget she’d come across in her reading:

the case of Mary Lady Broughton, “widow” and “Keeper of the Gatehouse Prison” (in Westminster). On 29 August 1670 she was accused of “wittingly and wilfully” suffering Thomas Ridley, who was in her custody on the charge of stealing a silver cup worth 25 shillings, to escape.

(I could just note that being accused of ‘negligently’ allowing prisoners to escape, with fines if convicted, was an occupational hazard of being a gaoler – or a constable – in the seventeenth century. But I digress.)

Anyway, as I commented to Natalie, I wondered if her ‘Mary Lady Broughton’ might just be related to the ‘Dame Mary Broughton’ of Marchwiail in Denbighshire, who was accused, with her two sons, of assault in Denbighshire in 1683. Natalie, unfortunately had only the bare details of the case and didn’t know anything more about Mary Broughton, the keeper of the Gatehouse Prison (ie, at the Tower of London)* – this was just an incidental snippet she came across while researching her main interest: “the Gatehouse in an earlier period, from 1633 when Lady Eleanor Davies was imprisoned there, but I know the jailer then was one Aquila Weekes”.

But (says I, getting very excited, but remember I am a history nerd) – one of Dame Mary’s sons was called Aquila Wykes/Wickes!

And a little genealogical googling revealed quite quickly that the Gatehouse gaolkeeper of 1633 was Mary Broughton’s (nee Knightley) first husband and she did indeed take over running the prison after his death – and (ah, how romantic) her second husband Sir Edward Broughton was one of her Royalist prisoners just before the Restoration.

But a bit more to come. The Aquila Weekes who was running the Gatehouse in the 1630s wasn’t the first man of that name to have the job – his father Aquila Weekes/Wykes senior had done it before him, and was the gaoler there when Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned just before his execution… So we have a family ‘dynasty’ running this prison for a large part of the seventeenth century (obscured by Mary’s remarriage and change of name). She died during the 1690s; I don’t know at what point she gave up the post or whom it was passed on to after that. Maybe Google would come up with more if I dig a bit further (in the Journal of the House of Lords in 1675 the keeper of the Gatehouse prison was required to take a prisoner into ‘his’ custody, but that might be just convention…).

I think that I’ve come across references to the post of gaoler being handed down in families before; and I’ve certainly found a widow taking over from her deceased husband (but only temporarily rather than the decades Mary must have been in charge at the Gatehouse). But I can’t think right now of scholarly work – books, or even substantial chunks of books, or articles – specifically on early modern gaolers. Anybody know of anything?

And I would probably never have known about this set of connections to the Dame Mary Broughton I came across in the Denbighshire court records if it hadn’t been for Natalie blogging about this tiny piece of information that had caught her eye…

*Correction: My London geography is useless, but that’s no excuse for getting these prisons mixed up. The Tower of London page came up when I googled the Gatehouse, and Raleigh was on the list, so… The Gatehouse was a small prison in Westminster – as I’d already noted, in fact. D’oh.

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3 Responses to Blogging serendipity

  1. Sharon says:

    Isn’t it just? :D

  2. Pingback: Early Modern Notes » AHA links

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