Rose Hickman, A Tudor Lady
Rose Locke was born in London on 26 December 1526. She was the daughter of Sir William Locke and his 2nd wife, Katherine. The 3rd of 11 children, her family were some of the earliest Protestants in England, and staunch supporters of Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The family lived in Cheapside in the 1530s, with Rose’s father and several brothers serving as agents of the king in France and Flanders during the 1540s. A mercer and alderman of London, Rose’s father was a gentleman usher of the chamber to Henry VIII and was appointed sheriff of London in 1548; he was knighted by Edward VI in 1549.
According to Rose her father, Sir William Locke, a merchant with strong links to Antwerp, had smuggled ‘herectic’ Protestant writings from abroad for Queen Anne Boleyne herself. Rose had long been familiar with the new learning and wrote in 1610: “My mother in the dayes of King Henry the 8th came to some light of the gospel by means of some English books sent privately to her by my father’s factor from beyond the sea: where upon she used to call me with my 2 sisters into her chamber to read to us out of these same good books very privately for feare of troble because these good books were then accepted hereticall…”¹
On 28 November 1543, just a month short of her 17th birthday, Rose married London merchant Anthony Hickman. They had as many as 7 children together and their eldest daughter, Mary, was born in 1547 and a son, William, was born in 1549. Sons Walter and Anthony were born in 1553 and 1560 respectively. Another son, Eleazar, born in 1562, was named after John Knox’s son, and the last, Matthew, was born in 1563. There were two other daughters, Frances and Rose, though their birth dates are unclear.
Anthony Hickman owned several ships, including the Great Christopher, given to Queen Elizabeth I’s navy in 1560 and renamed Victory; and had property in London, Essex and Antwerp. He had a business partnership with Rose’s brother, Thomas Locke, and both were favourites of Henry VIII and Edward VI, growing rich through their mercantile endeavours. The Hickmans entertained such eminent clergymen as John Foxe and John Knox; Rose’s sister-in-law Anne Locke was a correspondent of John Knox and he mentioned the family a number of times in his letters to her between 1556 and 1560.
However, the advent of the reign of Mary I, and the resurgence of the Catholic faith in England, meant that the staunchly Protestant family fell out of favour with the catholic queen. They defied Mary by holding private religious services in their homes. Anthony and Thomas were both arrested and held in the Fleet prison for a time, before being released to house arrest. Anthony eventually escaped to Antwerp, with Rose and the children following him shortly after; the family would remain on the continent until after Queen Mary’s death.
They returned to England shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I. However, religious divisions were becoming more pronounced as Queen Elizabeth’s reign advanced, not only between Catholicism and Protestantism, but within Protestantism itself.
After Anthony’s death in 1573, Rose married again. Her 2nd husband was a widower, Simon Throckmorton of Brampton, who died in 1585. Rose rarely used the Throckmorton surname, possibly because of its association with plots to rescue Mary Queen of Scots by disaffected Catholics; the Throckmorton Plot being led by Sir Francis Throckmorton, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth’s lady in waiting, Bess Throckmorton.
The Hickman family had become known for their Puritan leanings; Puritans were those who wanted the ‘purer’ church as envisaged in the reign of Edward VI, rather than the compromise established by Elizabeth I. In 1593, in order to curb the activities of such religious dissidents, Elizabeth I’s government had approved the ‘Act Against Puritans’, whereby it became illegal to become a Puritan or encourage others to that tendency.
As a result, official appointments at court, for those known to have Puritan connections, suddenly dried up. Rose’s son Walter, deeply entrenched in court circles and an old hand at brokering appointments for friends and family (usually with a financial incentive) discovered the implications of the new stance in 1594. The Cecil Papers show that Walter was refused when he applied for the position of Receiver of the Court of Wards for his brother William, despite offering an inducement of £1,000.² The increasing hostility towards Puritans, and the possibility of escalating religious persecution, may well have persuaded William to move his family north; away from the prying eyes of the authorities and into Lincolnshire.
With the encouragement of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, ministers with Puritan leanings had been appointed to various churches throughout Lincolnshire. Several of the Pilgrim Fathers, who sailed to America on the Mayflower, would come from the region, including William Brewster and William Bradford. Families with strong ties to service at the Tudor court, such as the Burghs of Gainsborough, were moving south, closer to London and the person of the Queen, while other families were moving north.
In 1596 William Hickman bought the Old Hall at Gainsborough, which provided the merchant with his very own port on the River Trent. The move to Gainsborough was not without its challenges. With the Burgh family having essentially left the town to its own devices for the last 30 years, Hickman’s attempts to collect market revenues and port tolls met with opposition, including the apparent murder of one of his servants, who was stabbed to death. It may well have been that William’s puritan leanings exacerbated the situation, but the main unrest seems to have stemmed from relatives and retainers of the outgoing Burgh family. A Mr Topliff, who tried to stop William obtaining justice for his servant, was the son-in-law of Thomas Burgh III (himself the father-in-law of Henry VIII’s last queen, Katherine Parr).
Now approaching her 80s, Rose moved to Gainsborough with her eldest son. In 1610, at the age of 84, she wrote an account of her early life, from 1534, when her father removed the papal bull, which had been posted in Dunkirk, against Henry VIII. Her recollections ended in 1558, with the death of Mary I and her family’s return to England on the accession of Elizabeth.
Lady Rose Hickman died on 21 November 1613, a month short of her 87th birthday. She was buried in the Hickman Quire of the former Burgh chantry chapel in the parish church of All Saints in Gainsborough, just across the road from her home, Gainsborough Old Hall. Her epitaph was written in 1637 and reads:
God gave unto this matron in her days
Such pledges firm of his affliction dear
Such happy blessings as the psalmist says
They shall receive as serve the Lord in fear
Herself in wedlock as the fruitful vine
Her children like the olive plants to be
And of her issues in descendant line
She did her childrens childrens children see
And freed from the Babylonish awe
Peace permanent on Isreal saw
Now having fought a good and Christian fight
Against the spiritual common enemy
And exercis’d herself both day and night
In oracles divine continually.
And kept the sacred faith with constancy
Even in the midst of persecutions rage
Express’d by worthy works of peity
From time to time as well in youth as age
She finished her course and doth possess in heavenly bliss the crown of righteousness”³
¹A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall by Sue Allan; ²ibid; ³MS C Folio 7, deposited in the British Museum in 1935, quoted by gainsborougholdhall.co.uk/throckmorton
Rose Hickman from gainsborougholdhall.com; Gainsborough Old Hall photos ©SharonBennettConnolly 2017
John Leland Leland’s Itinerary in England and Wales 1535-43 edited by L Toulmin Smith (1906-10); Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII 1509-47 edited by JS Brewer, James Gairdner and RH Brodie, HMSO London 1862-1932; Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry VIII from November MDXIX to December MDXXXII edited by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas 1827; Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman edited by Maria Dowling and Joy Shakespeare; Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 1980 & 1982; A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall by Sue Allan; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; Henry VIII: King and Court by Alison Weir; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence; Oxforddnb.com; Tudorplace.com; gainsborougholdhall.com.
Lady Rose also features in Marie McPherson’s novel on the life of John Knox, The Second Blast of the Trumpet.
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