Mrs Elizabeth Tillotson and the building of Valentines
Documentary evidence proves that a building called Valentines existed in the Medieval period, but the house we know today was constructed after Mrs. Elizabeth Tillotson acquired the estate in 1696.
Elizabeth Tillotson was the niece of Oliver Cromwell, daughter of Peter French and his wife Robina Cromwell, sister of Cromwell. When she moved to Valentines, she was the widow of the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Tillotson. She had married John Tillotson at St. Lawrence Jewry Church on 23 February 1664. The church was destroyed in 1666 in the Great Fire and rebuilt magnificently by Sir Christopher Wren. It was in the new church that she buried her husband, now the Archbishop of Canterbury, when he died on 22 November 1694 at Lambeth Palace.
Much that has been written about Mrs. Tillotson and Valentines comes from two books: The Life of the Most Rev Dr J Tillotson by Thomas Birch (1753), and Memoirs of the Protectorate-house of Cromwell by Mark Noble (1784). From these sources we learn that the couple had four children, a son who died “when just at the age of manhood” and three daughters: one had also died unmarried before 1694, another became the wife of Mr. Fowler, son of the Bishop of Gloucester, and another had married James Chadwick Esq. and had three children before she died in 1687.
When King William lll asked John Tillotson to become the Archbishop of Canterbury he had resisted because “his private fortune was small and he should leave a poor widow of Canterbury”. The King agreed to give his wife a pension should she outlive him, but in the event this was delayed. Mrs. Tillotson was forced to sell the copyright of her husband’s manuscript sermons for which she received 2,500 guineas (£2,625). On 2 May 1695 the King granted her an annuity of £400 during her life.
Mrs. Tillotson purchased the Valentines estate in 1696 and it is generally agreed that the house was built for her by her son-in-law James Chadwick. He was a Commissioner of Customs and seems to have been respected. The house was not a grand affair, but was a well built residence, suitable for a lady in her social position.
However it appears James Chadwick did not play fair with his mother-in-law as the following letter appears in the book by Thomas Birch:
Deanry Sept 25, 1697
…. Mrs.Tillotson is reduced herself to these narrow circumstances by the unexpected death of Mr.Chadwick, and that less expected condition he has left his family in, that she is utterly disabled…
…. She acquainted me with her condition; that Mr.Chadwick had spent all his estate, but what was settled upon his wife in marriage, which comes to her eldest son: That the younger son and daughter had not one farthing to maintain them, but depended wholly upon her: That he had put a thousand pounds of her money into the Bank in his own name, and had given her no declaration of trust, though she had often desired it of him, which, by this means, is lost to her, and must pay his debts. That his estate is in the forest,* where she has built her house, and which, I think, is copyhold, was purchased for his life at £300. which must now be paid again. That upon his great importunity she built that house at great expense, which is now much too big for her. I was extremely concerned to hear this sad account…
Your most affectionate friend and servant, William Sherlock
* Valentines near Wanstead in Essex (i.e. in the legal Forest, not the physical forest)
Poor Mrs. Tillotson, not only was she left with financial problems, but she was responsible for the administration of her son-in-law’s will. At least the letter above seems to have had some effect as the King granted her an additional annuity of £200, also for life, on 18 August 1698. However Mrs Tillotson died four years later. Her will gives some details of her possessions and most of her estate went to the two younger grandchildren.
Did Grinling Gibbons design some features in the original Valentines House?
One interesting comment for us today is Mrs Tillotson’s bequest of a picture “in the unfurnished room where the carved work is over the chimney”. The comment by Daniel Lysons writing much later, in 1796, that the house contained “some fine carving by Gibbons” suggests that Grinling Gibbons may have carved the ornate decoration which can just be traced over the fireplace in the Surman Bedroom. Since the silhouette would have faded if exposed to the light, it was preserved behind wallpaper when the Mansion was restored.
John Tillotson Archbishop of Canterbury (1630- 1694)
John Tillotson was born at Sowerby near Halifax in Yorkshire “of honest and religious parents, tho’ of a low and obscure condition”. His puritan upbringing was of enormous importance as he went to Cambridge during the Civil War and the religious turbulence was raging at the time when he was forming his own doctrinal views.
In 1656-7 he became chaplain to Edmund Prideaux, Oliver Cromwell’s attorney-general, and tutor to his son. In 1660/1 he was ordained and started on his path in the church. There is not enough space to summarise his career here, but a few facts might be of interest.
Tillotson regularly preached on a Tuesday at St Lawrence (where he was later buried) before it was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, and his sermons attracted considerable crowds. The vicar of St Lawrence from 1662 to 1668 was John Wilkins, and on 23 February 1664 Wilkins officiated in St Lawrence at the marriage between Tillotson and Wilkins’ stepdaughter Elizabeth French. Wilkins was the second husband of Robina French, widow of Peter French.
Tillotson became a Doctor of Divinity in 1666 and the following year was appointed one of the chaplains to Charles II. This led to a post at Canterbury where he was dean from 1672 until 1689. The fact that his own non-conformist sympathies and connections with Cromwell were not hidden, and that he spoke against ‘popery’ even when he preached before the King showed him to be a man of integrity. He lost favour at court and bought a house at Edmonton where he retired during the difficult period when James II was on the throne. With the arrival of William and Mary he was again appointed a royal chaplain and became dean of St. Paul’s.
Alhough he had no wish even to become a bishop, Tillotson was nominated as Archbishop of Canterbury and consecrated in the post on 31 May 1691. He made a number of improvements at Lambeth Palace before moving in with his wife in the November. His time there was just three years as he died on 30 November 1694 after suffering a stroke a few days earlier. The King told Tillotson’s son-in-law James Chadwick, ‘He was the best man, that I ever knew, and the best Friend, that I ever had’.
© Georgina Green 2007- 2008