Eleanor Harman of Sutton Coldfield

Eleanor Harman who lived from about 1510 to 1579 did not leave a will but we can glean a fair amount about her life from the wills of her two husbands. As a wealthy widow in the Elizabethan era she achieved financial independence after 1565 and we can speculate she was able to espouse and promote certain views on religion and education Рmainly to promote the memory of her Uncle Bishop Vesey. 

Her father was Hugh Harman of Moor Hall in Sutton Coldfield whose monument stands in Sutton Coldfield church. He died in 1528 and a memorial stone originally erected by his great nephew, John Wyrley, describes his life and family. Although the monument was reworked in the 19th century it describes that Hugh was the brother and heir of John Vesey, Bishop of Exeter. It makes clear that he had four daughters by his second wife Joyce, daughter of William Rugeley.

One of those daughters was Eleanor and she was therefore an heir of part of her uncle’s fortune. Bishop Vesey, who is most famed for the foundation of the eponymous Grammar School in Sutton Coldfield in 1527 was a very rich man. He was a close friend of Cardinal Wolsley, surviving the latter’s demise and only much later falling out of favour for some more conservative religious views. He was only restored to the Bishopric of Exeter under Queen Mary and died a very old man in 1554. He never married and the two sons and six daughters of his brother Hugh were his designated heirs.

Eleanor must have married Robert Pudsey in about 1538 and there must have been a generous marriage settlement, although the details do not seem to have survived. In the disputed will of Robert Pudsey, written in 1547, it mentions the jointure lands that she retained control of during her life time. It is not clear why the will appears to have been granted probate twice in 1558 (under Mary) and again in 1561 (under Elizabeth) particularly as it seems Eleanor remained Executrix and retained her income in both grants.

Eleanor married Robert Silvester pretty soon after the second grant of probate. One suspects that Robert Silvester was closely involved in the administration of Bishop Vesey’s lands – given that his own will takes up the funding of an Usher for the “free school in King’s Sutton in Coldfield” (ie presumably Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School) and another foundation in Shenstone under the vicar there, Nicholas Silvester, who was either his son or brother.

Unlike her son George Pudsey, one suspects that Eleanor held on to her Catholic beliefs – but tempered these with her progressive view of education. Bishop Vesey, himself, demonstrated that whilst he saw advantages in diverting the sterile wealth of the monasteries into education and his own personal aggrandisement, he never wanted to take the final step away from Catholic liturgy. Eleanor’s circle, as demonstrated by the people witnessing and proving the various wills, including that of her mother in 1553, are all drawn from the Bishop’s entourage.

These include Raphael Wendon, Rector of Sutton, John Harman, her brother and main heir to Bishop Vesey, and his brother William Harman and of course Robert Silvester himself .

The litigation in the Court of Chancery between herself and her son, although perhaps having a strong financial element, seems to be at its core a battle over Bishop Vesey’s ‘legacy’, especially in terms of the direction of education as a means to promotion literacy and free thinking. If this analysis is correct Eleanor wanted to promote more her uncle and husband’s view of how the Free Schools should be run and this brought her into confrontation with her son.

It is not clear when Eleanor died but the Chancery Court case between herself and her son seems to terminate in 1579.

Sources

  • Monumental Inscriptions Holy Trinity, Sutton Coldfield
  • Will of Robert Pudsey, Probate 1558 and 1561, PCC (First Husband)
  • Will of Robert Silvester, Probate 2 Apr 1565, PCC (Second Husband)
  • Will of Joyce Mountford, 31 Oct 1553, PCC (Mother)
  • National Archives¬†(C 3/145/63) Pudsey v Silvester