Lancelot Lee of Coton Hall

Lancelot Lee was baptized in Alveley, Shropshire on 14 Nov 1594, the oldest son and heir of Thomas Lee (1561-1620) and Dorothy Ottley (bur 9 Aug 1636), of Coton Hall, which is about 13 miles from Wolverhampton. The Lees were wealthy Elizabethan gentry – Thomas’s father John Lee (1530-1605) had been knighted and had attended the queen’s court.

Lancelot had an uncle called Richard Lee, who is allegedly the direct ancestor of Robert E Lee, the confederate general in The American Civil War. It is this uncle, Richard Lee, Gent, who seemingly married an Elizabeth Bendy on 21 Oct 1599 in St Mary’s, Alveley. She was the widow of William Bendy of Kingswinford, the father of William Bendy (1593-1657). Lancelot Lee’s daughter Dorothy Lee was much later to marry William Bendy’s son in about 1652.

Whilst Richard Lee’s alleged grandson, Richard Lee (c1613-1664) emigrated to Virginia, his first cousin, Lancelot Lee inherited and lived at Coton Hall, the family seat. Practically nothing of the Elizabethan house has survived as the present Coton Hall was entirely rebuilt in about 1800 by one of Lancelot’s descendants.

In 1620 Lancelot’s father died and left a will that names Lancelot as his heir and names four daughters, Jane, Martha, Anne and Marie and another son John. The overseer of the will was his ‘kinsman’ Sir Humphrey Lee  of Langley Hall. This further branch of the Shropshire Lee family and it relationship to the Coton Hall branch is well documented in the 1623 ‘Visitation of Shropshire’. Sir Humphrey Lee had bought a Lee baronetcy in 1622 and his son Sir Richard Lee, 2nd baronet went on to be an ardent Royalist in the civil war.

Lancelot acceded to his father’s estate in 1621. He married twice, first to Jane Clemens (m 29 Dec 1616) and second to Elizabeth Gough (m 1625). Jane Clemens evidently died in child birth as her burial is recorded in the parish register on the same day as the baptism of a son called Francis. Elizabeth Gough, his second wife was the daughter of Henry Gough, a Wolverhampton Draper and Clothier. Significantly at least two of Lancelot and Elizabeth’s sons took up City of London careers in the same profession.

By his first wife, Jane, he had two surviving sons, Thomas (bap 2 Jul 1620, Bobington), and Richard (bap 15 Sep 1622). By his second wife he had three further sons Lancelot (bap 13 Jan 1632), Thomas (bap 28 Jul 1635) and Humphrey (bap 9 Sep 1638) and also four daughters. His daughter Dorothy (bap 11 Nov 1627), became the wife of William Bendy. The other daughters mentioned in his will are Elizabeth Baugh (bap 21 Mar 1640), Anne Shadwell (bap 1 Dec 1644) and the unmarried Jane Lee (bap 17 Oct 1647), the youngest, who went on to marry Lancelot Stevens on 23 Jan 1672

Thomas Lee (1620-1687), Lancelot’s eldest son, went on to inherit the estate. He was a contemporary of William Bendy at Lincoln’s Inn and may have held similar Roundhead views. “Thomas, son of Lancelot Lee of Alveley”, was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn on 23 Nov 1647, about six months after Richard Cromwell. He married Dorothy Eldred in 1649 – the daughter of John Eldred (1593-1648), a Lincoln’s Inn bencher. The Eldreds were keen Parliamentarians from Essex and Dorothy’s cousin John Eldred himself admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1648 went on to serve as an MP for Harwich in 1689.

Records show that Richard Lee, second son of Lancelot Lee was apprenticed as a City of London Fishmonger in 16 Dec 1639 to John Lee, his uncle. Little is known about him – other than he married Elizabeth Langdon. In some of the earlier Virginia histories of the Lee family they incorrectly latch on to him as the missing link.

Lancelot Lee (jnr) was apprenticed also as a Fishmonger to Francis Colling, the future father-in-law of Nicholas Bendy, Citizan and Salter. Nicholas Bendy was the second oldest son of William Bendy (1593-1657). Lancelot lived in London and appears to have had three wives, including an Anne Eldred. He died and left a will in 1681 which describes him as a Fishmonger and a Draper.

Thomas Lee, half brother to the other Thomas Lee died and left a will of 1665. This shows he too was engaged in the City of London as a draper. He names his Uncle John Lee and “brother Thomas Lee of Lincoln’s Inn” (sic) as overseers.

Humphrey Lee was the youngest surviving son and was still alive in 1667.

With all these sons seeking education and careers in London this is a progressive family – and supports a number of suggestions that Lancelot Lee and William Bendy (snr) were close allies.  This may well have put the Coton Hall Lees at odds with the Langley Hall Lees when it came to the Civil War, supporting opposing sides.

Navigating the civil war period 1640-1647 would have been  exceptionally tricky. Lancelot’s first cousin was Francis Ottley, a prominent royalist and capturer of Shrewsbury in 1641. Thomas Lee, Lancelot’s eldest son was evidently engaged in mitigating in the sequestration of Francis’s property after his capture in 1646. Significantly the Lee Coton Hall estates remained in Lancelot’s low profile hands under both Royalist and Parliamentary jurisdictions.

Lancelot Lee was buried on 17 Dec 1667 in Alveley Parish Church. His wife Elizabeth died some fifteen years later and was buried on 13 Apr 1682

Selected Sources

  • Parish Registers of St Mary’s, Alveley, findmypast
  • Will of Thomas Lee of Alveley, Probate 9 Oct 1621, National Archives (Father)
  • Will of Lancelot Lee of Alveley. Probate 10 Jan 1667, National Archives
  • Will of Elizabeth Lee, Widow of Alveley, Probate 11 Dec 1682, National Archives (Wife)
  • Will of Thomas Lee of Lincoln’s Inn, Probate 28 Oct 1687, National Archives (Oldest son)
  • Will of Thomas Lee, Draper of Southwark, Probate 13 Dec 1665, National Archives (Son by second marriage)
  • Will of Lancelot Lee, Draper, Citizen and Fishmonger, Probate 21 Apr 1681, National Archives (Son)
  • The Records of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn
  • Visitation of Shropshire taken in the year 1623, R Tresswell – Harleian Society, 1889
  • London Apprenticeship Abstracts, findmypast