ID: PH01_BLQ / Elaine Barker

TitleThe Story behind the brass of Henry Bullock
AbstractIn Great Wigborough Church there are only two remaining memorials to a member of the wealthy Bullock family who lived and held property in the village from the early 1500s. One is a gravestone behind the altar dated 1628 and the other is a little brass, now mounted in the nave wall but previously set in a Purbeck marble slab in the chancel.

Dated 1609, this memorial marked the burial in the chancel of Great Wigborough yeoman, Henry Bullock.

Almost lost in the nineteenth century, the little brass measuring 3 inches by 14 inches, and now mounted in the north wall of the nave, has moved several times. The Purbeck marble slab it was attached to (probably in the floor of the chancel originally) was reused as a step into the church during a Victorian church restoration and the brass torn off leaving an indentation and screw marks.

In 1886, the incumbent, the Revd Theobald rescued it, putting it on the wall in the chancel. Subsequently, it was moved to its current site in the nave.


To relate the story of Henry we start with that of his father, Henry (Senior).

Henry Bullock (Senior) died in 1578/9. Grandson of the first member of the family to move to Great Wigborough from Berkshire, early in the early sixteenth century, Henry was a wealthy man holding much land and property, not only in Great Wigborough but in Tollesbury and West Mersea.

We have the wills of both his parents John (1553) and Margaret (1561) and it is clear from John's will that Henry was their youngest son and was not yet 21 in 1553 when his father died. The property John bequeaths bacons otherwise called dowes is to be an important part of the story that follows.

Also I will unto the same Margaret yerely fower poundes to be paied her oute of my freehold landes lyenge in westm[er]sey called bacons otherwise called dowes by myne executor untill my yongest sonne henry com to his age of xxj yeres

John's will puts Henry's birthdate at the earliest as 1533 and the latest as 1553. It would also mean that Henry died under the age of 45, if not considerably younger. That he was much younger is suggested by the fact his wife, Agnes, was pregnant with their third child and, as we shall see, his son and heir Henry (Junior) was only about a year old at the time of his father's death.

Henry (Senior) bequeathed properties called Rowses, Gales, Marsh House, Sharpes, widow Croft, and Warestocke in Great Wigborough and property in Tollesbury. He refers to Dawes alias Bacons in West Mersea as having been recently sold but clearly has money owing from this sale and requires his executors to enter into a bond with John Bajon, a wealthy friend of the family. One of his executors was his brother-in-law, Richard Wiseman of Fingringhoe, husband of Henry's sister, Margaret.

From a Court of Chancery document in the Public Records Office [PRO C2/Eliz/B22/18 1] it seems that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford also the Lord Great Chamberlain, stepped in to sue for wardship of the infant Henry, in 1581.

The Court of Wards was established by two parliamentary acts in 1540 and 1541, making a significant income for the sovereign and those who became guardians. It was generally loathed.

Children whose wealthy and powerful fathers had died were, through the Court, made wards, their mothers having no legal rights. The guardians who were appointed by the Court could make huge profits managing the children's estates until these 'orphans' reached the age of majority. Advantageous marriages would also be arranged by guardians and huge sums of money paid for the privilege.

The tenure of the particular property at the centre of this court case, Dawes alias Bacon's at West Mersea, involved an obligation of 'knight's service' which in this case was due to Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Oxford himself had been a ward of William Cecil, Lord Burghley. The latter was in charge of the Court of Wards and, wanting to ally his family with such an ancient and wealthy family as the De Veres, Burghley had brought about the marriage of his own daughter with the Earl of Oxford. Both the 17th Earl and his father before him were in the habit of taking on wards.

It appears to have been the practice for potential wards to be 'concealed' by the family. Often the mother or other relative would try to prevent the authorities from finding out about the father's death or from looking too carefully at the properties he left.

Oxford clearly did find out, and, insisting on his right to be guardian of young Henry, who was only 4 years old by the time of the court case, filed a bill of complaint against the child's uncle, Richard Wiseman. Wiseman was accused of fraud concerning Dawes alias Bacons held by Henry Bullock Senior by knight's service. [The property was copyhold of the Manor of Bower Hall and today there is still a Dawes Lane in West Mersea].

The complaint was that on his deathbed, within six days of his death, Henry Bullock Senior did by the advice of one Richard Wiseman, his brother-in-law, and of divers other very crafty persons transfer the property to his brother-in-law in trust until the child Henry came of age. Henry Bullock Senior and Richard Wiseman were accused, by this means, of attempting to conceal the potential ward from Oxford the complainant.

Making Richard Wiseman an executor of his will, Henry entrusted to him the issues and profits
of certain of his lands with other his goods & chattels with condition that he should be
bound by obligation in the sum of five hundred pounds to one John Baron, yeoman,
yearly to account to him of the said issues and profits, and that they might be duly
answered to the said infant & other his brethren and sisters at their full years

The accused, Richard Wiseman,

utterly denieth both the said trust, claiming the said land to be absolutely to him and his heirs, and also having not put in the said bond of £500 to the said John Baron

The prosecution acknowledged that there was no direct proof other than Richard's word and requested that Richard be subpoenaed to appear at the court.

Richard's response [PRO C2/Eliz/B22/18/2] was that Henry had sold the property to him having

long before his death enter[ed] into talk and conversation with divers and sundry persons for the buying thereof, and at length made offer of the sale of the same to the said defendant his brother-in-law, who after divers treaties therein did in the end grow to a full and plain bargain for the same, videlicet [viz], that the said defendant should have the said lands and tenements called Dawes and Bacons mentioned in the said bill of complaint to him...and that he the said defendant should pay for the same the sum of eightscore pounds in money at such days and times as between them was then agreed of.
In performing and accomplishing of which said bargain and agreement the said Henry Bullock the father did about the fifteenth day of January in the 21st year of the reign [15 January 1578/79] of our sovereign Lady the Queen, her Majesty that now is make a deed of feoffment [ie possession] and caused an estate to be duly delivered of the said land called Dawes alias Bacons to the said defendant and his heirs in the presence of divers persons of good ability and credit,

Richard goes on to say that he is happy to show the court the deed of feoffment. He also argues

.. the complainant has no just cause of good title as guardian in chivalry or otherwise to have the custody or wardship of the said Henry Bullock the infant, and for that his custody, education, and bringing up during his minority was specially meant and appointed by his father upon his death-bed unto the said defendant.

In his will Henry Bullock the elder clearly wanted his wife to have custody of all their children,

That the said Agnes my wife... shall well and honestly bringe upp all my saide children with sufficiente meate drinke apparell and learninge and all other necessaries convenient for theire callinge and degree untill their severall ages aforenamed The Will of Henry Bullock 1578 National Archive PROB 11/61/174

In a further document [PRO C2/Eliz/B22/18/3], Edward De Vere repeats the complaint.

He denied that the actions by Henry Bullock the elder and Wiseman

were made done or executed to any other ende effect or purpose, than to defeate defraude and avoid this Complainant of the wardeshippe of the said Henry Bullocke the sonne.

Alas, I can't quote the ruling.

As with most Chancery suits of the period, the outcome of this suit is unknown... Other suits were to follow, mostly over property, for Oxford was not merely a litigious man in a litigious age, but the cause of litigation in others. Monstrous Adversary: The Life of Edward De Vere 17th Earl of Oxford Alan H Nelson

Richard Wiseman's will, dated 1592, makes it clear that Oxford's suit failed.

Item I give unto Thomas my Sonn[e] \and to his heyers/ my Freeholde land[es] in Weste m[er]sye Called Bacons al[ia]s Dawes. \Imediatlye After my wives disscease/ upon this Condycyon, that he my sayde sonn
shall within three yeares nexte After his Enterye upon the Same landes Paye unto Henrye My sonn the Sum of Fortye Pound[es] of lawfull Englishe monye. The Will of Richard Wyseman of Tolleshunt Darcy 1592

He predeceases his wife, Margaret née Bullock, to whom he had been married over thirty years and names her sole executrix as well as ensuring she retained Bacons al[ia]s Dawes during her lifetime.

I'd like to think that the Henry Bullock who is bequeathed Richard's Graye Nagg was his nephew who by then would have been in his mid-teens but we have no proof and the Bullock family reused the same Christian names repeatedly!

By the time of the next relevant document (dated 16th October in the forty second year of the reign of Elizabeth I which is by my calculations 1600) Henry Wiseman, in accordance with the terms of Richard's will, transfers the property to his brother Thomas having received the £40 from him specified in his father's will.

All those land[es] and Tenement[es] w[i]th a Barne therupon built w[i]thall & synguler ther appurten[au]nces Called or knowen by the name of Dawes al[ia]s Bacons [ERO D/P 77/13 Land Transfer Deed].

Suffice to say, upon Henry Bullock Junior's death in 1609 there is no mention of Dawes alias Bacons in his will.

Calculations made according to information given in the court case reveal that Henry Junior must have been born c 1577 and as the brass tells us he was buried in 1609. It would seem that his mother, Agnes, married Thomas Sammes in Great Wigborough the year after her first husband's death.

Like his father Henry died young, in his case around the age of 32, and he left a wife, Anne, and a young family, Henry, Edward and Mary all under 21, we do know at least the boys are under 12.

Henry requests that he be buried in the chancel of St Stephen's, which was clearly carried out and he leaves money to the poor of both Wigborough and Tollesbury. He leaves all his properties in Great Wigborough to Henry, Hunts and Brownings in Tollesbury to Edward, and Fen House in Tollesbury to his daughter Mary. He leaves his wife money and an income to bring up the children.

Henry's uncle, Richard Wiseman, requested he be buried in Tolleshunt D'Arcy Churchyard although interestingly Great Wigborough Churchyard is crossed out in his will. The Richard Wiseman who died in 1616 and is commemorated by a slab in the chancel floor at St Stephen's is most likely to be his son.


The slab alongside that of Richard Wiseman the younger commemorates Ann Marke who died in 1621, the wife of Edward Marke. I believe she too was related to the Bullock family by marriage, her first husband being a Bullock by whom she had two children.

There were other memorials to the Bullock family inside Great Wigborough Church which seem to have been swept away in previous restorations especially in the Victorian period.

The seventeenth century antiquarian, Richard Symonds, mentions there was a memorial in St Stephens to Anne Bullock, late wife of John Bullock, ob. 20 Jan 1615. Still there in 1835, according to historian Wright, it was no longer there by the time P A F Stephenson was writing in 1905. It was also reported that there was an inscription for a John Bullock, again, along with other inscriptions this disappeared during restoration.
Stephenson wrote of another Bullock family inscription which still survives, covered by a piece of carpet behind the altar.

There still remains: - a flat stone, under the altar, inscribed: -

Here lyeth the body of
Henry Bvllocke only
sone of Henry Bvllocke
of Mvch Wigboroughe whoe
departed this lyfe the
24 day of November anno
Domini 1628

We do know there will have been Bullock family burials in the churchyard of St Stephen's. In her will of 1528, Margaret Bullock requests

my body to be buryed in the South side of the churchyard of moch wigborough... ner unto the place ther wher as John Bulloke my late husbond lieth buryed

In the twentieth century the rector of Great Wigborough, a descendant of our sixteenth century Bullocks, his wife, two sons and a daughter were buried in the North East corner of the churchyard. The Reverend Llewellyn Christopher Watson Bullock died in Colchester in 1936 and with his passing the Bullock connection with Great Wigborough ended.

Elaine Barker

Monstrous Adversary: The Life of Edward De Vere 17th Earl of Oxford Alan H Nelson

Thanks to for the transcription of the documents. The site is dedicated to investigating the belief that Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, was in fact the author of Shakespeare's plays...but that's another story!

Read More
The Bullock Family of Great Wigborough
Transcription of Will of Henry Bullock 1578
Transcription of Will of Henry Bullock of Great Wigborough 1609
Land transfer deed for Dawes between Henry Wyseman and Thomas Wyseman
Memorial to Ann Marke in Great Wigborough Church
Parish Church of St Stephen, Great Wigborough
Great Wigborough, Mrs P.A.F. Stephenson 1905

AuthorElaine Barker
Published9 July 2021
SourceMersea Museum
Related Images:
 Here Lyeth y Bodie of Richard Wiseman who departed y World in November 1616
 Slab in the nave of Great Wigborough Church, against the chancel step. It was raised by about 6 inches in the 2020/21 church restoration.  GWG_CHC_118
ImageID:   GWG_CHC_118
Title: Here Lyeth y Bodie of Richard Wiseman who departed y World in November 1616
Slab in the nave of Great Wigborough Church, against the chancel step. It was raised by about 6 inches in the 2020/21 church restoration.
Date:10 July 2021
Source:Mersea Museum
 Part of slab behind the altar in Great Wigborough church. The letters are not cut into the slab but are raised. The wood rail on the right is the back rail of the altar table.
Here lyeth the body of
 Henry Bvllocke only
 sone of Henry Bvllocke
 of Mvch Wigboroughe whoe
 departed this lyfe the
 24 day of November anno
 Domini 1628  GWG_CHC_125
ImageID:   GWG_CHC_125
Title: Part of slab behind the altar in Great Wigborough church. The letters are not cut into the slab but are raised. The wood rail on the right is the back rail of the altar table.

Here lyeth the body of
Henry Bvllocke only
sone of Henry Bvllocke
of Mvch Wigboroughe whoe
departed this lyfe the
24 day of November anno
Domini 1628

Date:10 July 2021
Source:Mersea Museum