Katherine Thomas of Michaelchurch Escley, Herefordshire: Information & References compiled by Dr Siobhan Keenan




ELSG Introductory Note: An original seventeenth century manuscript book written by Katherine Thomas of Michaelchurch Escley is held in the National Library of Wales. Dr Keenan has authored a detailed study of this legacy, entitled “Embracing Submission”? Motherhood, Marriage and Mourning in Katherine Thomas’s Seventeenth-century “Commonplace Book” published in Women's Writing, Volume 15, No. 1 May 2008, pp. 69-85 by Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, which provides rare insights into social and other aspects of local life at that time.

With the author’s permission, we reproduce below information and references compiled by Dr Keenan as part of her study.




Katherine Thomas, “Commonplace Book”, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, MS 4340A, 1691

The seventeenth-century manuscript “book” compiled by Katherine Thomas is among the surviving women’s texts which have yet to receive and which, arguably, reward further attention. Like other manuscript miscellanies of the period, Thomas’s brings together original and secondary material. Most of the literature is devotional, including prayers, biblical extracts, sermon notes, and religious verse, as well texts in which spiritual and domestic concerns converge, including a meditation on marriage (fos 117v-118r), a poem on “Death” by Elizabeth Peirce of Bath (fol.139v), and examples of two genres especially popular with early modern women authors: the so-called “mother’s legacy”, or letter of advice for her children (fos 136r-132r), and three elegies; one for her daughter Katherine who died in 1665 (fos 144v-144r), one for her daughter Dorothy who died in 1676 (fos 138v-137v), and one for her husband who died in 1671 (fos 143v-142v).


Katherine Thomas’s Family

Katherine Thomas was the second daughter of William Bridges (1601-1668), gentleman of Tibberton Hall and his wife Anne, and was baptised (and probably born) in 1637 in the parish of Bosbury in Herefordshire. Thomas’s descent from William Bridges is recorded in the Herald’s Visitation of Herefordshire in 1683. A transcription of Thomas’s family tree, as compiled by the Herald, is transcribed in the papers of nineteenth century antiquarian Robert Biddulph Phillips (d. 1864). See ‘Phillipps MSS: Purple’, Herefordshire County Record Office, Hereford, B56/4, 28-9. The record of Thomas’s baptism is preserved in Herefordshire County Record Office, Bosbury Parish Registers (November 1637).


Katherine Thomas was married to, and later widowed by, Edmund Thomas, a gentleman farmer of Michaelchurch Escley, Herefordshire. Edmund Thomas (1628-1671) was the son of Michael and Elizabeth Thomas. He died intestate, shortly after his father (1670). Katherine was appointed as the administrator of her husband’s wealth and property. See National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, Welsh Probate Records, Diocese of Brecon, BR/ 1671/152.


The couple lived in her husband’s village, probably at Michaelchurch Court (which survives to the present) and together had five children, including four daughters - Elizabeth, Katherine, Dorothy, and Anne - and one son, Humphrey. In the seventeenth century, the Thomases were the leading local family in Michaelchurch Escley. By the middle of the century they appear to have resided at the local manor house, Michaelchurch Court (built c.1602). In 1664 Michael and Edmund Thomas paid the largest hearth tax in the village (see Herefordshire Militia Assessments of 1663, ed. M. A. Faraday (London: Royal Historical Society, 1972) 54) – an indication that they owned the principal dwelling – and the house was held by a descendant of the family (Edmund Thomas Lewis) in 1812 when John Duncomb published his Collections Towards the History and Antiquities of the County of Hereford, Part I, Volume II (Hereford: E. G. Wright, 1812) 297.


Thomas’s three older children died young – Elizabeth, Katherine (1665) and Dorothy (1676) – while her son (1665/6-1732) and youngest daughter (b. 1667) survived to adulthood. The names of Thomas’s older children and their young deaths are recorded in the Herald’s Visitation of 1683. According to the same family tree Humphrey was by that time married to Constance Watkins of Clodock, Herefordshire; Anne (who was sixteen) remained unmarried. ‘Phillipps MSS: Purple’, HCRO, B56/4, 28. Around the same time (22 March 1682-3) Humphrey matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford, aged seventeen. See Alumni Oxoniensis, ed. Joseph Foster (Oxford: Parker & co., 1892), IV, 1472. The dates upon which Dorothy and Katherine died are recorded in Thomas’s elegies for them in her commonplace book.


The date of Thomas’s death is unknown but, living at least until 1694 (when she wrote the latest dated piece of writing in her commonplace book), she was, at minimum, a woman in her fifties when she died, and her writing career alone spanned thirty years, from the 1660s to the 1690s. I have not been able to find any record of Thomas’s marriage or burial. Her marriage is likely to have taken place in her home parish (Bosbury) but there is no record of it in the surviving parish registers. This could mean that it occurred during the 1650s, a period when there is a break in the records (1643-1659/60). Confirmation that she was William Brydges’s daughter is found in his will (16 May 1668) in which he makes bequests to his daughter Katherine Thomas, her husband Edmund, and their children. London, Public Record Office, Will of William Brydges, Prob/11/328, fos 171v-172. Thomas probably died in Michaelchurch Escley in the late 1690s or early 1700s. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to confirm this as the parish registers only date back to 1719 (and make no mention of her burial), and I have been unable to find any record of her will in the archives of Herefordshire County Record Office, the National Library of Wales (where many of the probate records for her parish are held), or the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (which dealt with the wills of wealthier English parishioners). She does not appear to have remarried and, therefore, like many early modern women experienced an extended widowhood of twenty years or more. Thomas’s book makes no reference to her social class, but her marriage to, and descent from, a gentleman, and her family’s possession of property in Herefordshire identifies her as one of the landed gentry.


Other Documents

In 1689 Katherine Thomas and her son Humphrey entered into an agreement relating to the tenancy of a considerable amount of property (including their manor house, several farms and more than a hundred acres of land) held by the family in and around Michaelchurch Escley. See Herefordshire County Record Office, Deeds, Q/RD/6/4. 



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