Estate management during the Civil Wars: the case of Margaret Roper

The Gender Place and Memory research cluster hosts a team of researchers whose ongoing work is establishing how significant women were as managers of households and estates. From litigating for property and overseeing inheritance, to handling accounts and collecting household objects, women could play an integral role in the development and maintenance of property and land. What happened, however, when that estate was thrown into chaos by the events of the Civil Wars? This blog will explore the case of one woman, Margaret Roper, to see how she managed her estate during this turbulent period.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES
Section of an order from the Kent Sequestration Committee (TNA, SP 28/210/142)

The Ropers of Kent (descendants of Thomas More’s daughter, Margaret Roper) were known to be recusants and, as such, they were presented to the Quarter Sessions for not attending their local church during the 1630s.[1] In 1641, with divisions between Parliament and King growing, Parliament passed an Ordinance requiring the houses of recusants to be searched for arms. As a result of this search ‘several Chests or Trunks of the Length of a Musket, of a very great Weight, wherein it is conceived, are Arms and Ammunition’ were found in the house of Anthony Roper, Margaret Roper’s husband.[2] His lands were confiscated by Parliament, according to their policy of sequestering the estates of their enemies, and when he died the following year his widow Margaret was unable to access any part of his estate.

The confiscation of the Roper estate meant that local Parliamentary sequestration committeemen became responsible for collecting the rents from tenants and disbursing any money on estate repairs. So, not only was Margaret unable to collect the profits from the lands but the management of them was placed in the hands of local agents. This was bad news for Margaret’s estate. One of her tenants, John Menvill, asked the local sequestration committeeman if he could be abated his rents ‘owing to the barrenness of them’.[3] The account books of the sequestration committee show that her estate went from receiving 308li from tenants in 1646 to 119li in 1649 (from, roughly, £23,000 to £9,000 in modern money).[4] Furthermore, Margaret’s own house had fallen into disrepair and she needed 20li to repair it.[5]

The Roper Gate
Plaque that marks the location of The Roper Gate in St Dunstan’s Canterbury, Kent: the only remaining section of the Roper family house

Despite what her estate suffered as a consequence of the wars, Margaret was proactive in trying to achieve the best for herself and her family’s property. She joined numerous other widows in petitioning the central Parliamentary Committee to ask to pay a fine to regain her lands (although unfortunately that petition does not survive).[6] Furthermore, while Parliamentary agents should have been receiving the profits from Margaret’s property, they discovered in 1647 that she had been collecting rents from the entire estate.[7] Additionally, Margaret succeeded in obtaining money to repair her home in St Dunstan’s Canterbury, after her cousin Henry Roper wrote personally to a local Parliamentary agent to ask him to intervene on Margaret’s behalf.[8]

Margaret utilised her family connections, and even disregarded the confiscation order on her estates for a time, in order to maintain her estates during the Civil Wars. There is little doubt that the 1640s and 1650s were a challenging time for landowners. In addition to sequestration, the billeting of soldiers on people’s property and the plunder enacted by roaming armies all took their toll on civilians who managed land. Nevertheless, during this turbulent and chaotic period women remained vital as managers and defenders of estates for themselves and for future generations.

Post by Hannah Worthen, PDRA for the Gender Place and Memory research cluster. Follow her on twitter here and read more about her research here.

All images are author’s own

[1] Kent History and Library Centre, Presentment Roll, Q/SRp/1/m.1v.

[2] ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 2: 12 January 1642’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 2, 1640-1643 (London, 1802), pp. 371-375.

[3] The National Archives (TNA), SP 28/210/160.

[4] TNA, SP 28/210/3; SP 28/210/12. Conversion made using The National Archive’s Currency Converter: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/

[5] TNA, SP 28/210/161.

[6] TNA, SP 23/3, p. 110.

[7] TNA, SP 28/210/159.

[8] TNA, SP 28/210/161, 162.