Who Was Elizabeth Beale?

Elizabeth, wife of Richard Beale (1663-1757)

Clothiers of Biddenden, Kent and my 6th great grandparents

There’s been quite a few posts on this blog about unidentified fathers, but this is my first unidentified mother!

I was very pleased to get an email from my Beale cousin, Geoff West, the other day.  Geoff was one of the first people I exchanged messages with when I started researching my family, and it was his writings about the Beales that coined the nickname “Crusty Richard”.  But it seems that Geoff and I have come up against the same stumbling block when researching our Beale heritage – and reached opposite conclusions.

Richard Beale 1757 and Elizabeth Newington.jpg
Tomb of Richard and the mysterious Elizabeth, with the writing now almost invisible

Yet another Richard Beale, whom I will call Tombstone Richard, was the grandfather of Seaman Cooke Beale and the great grandfather of Rich Richard.  He was born on 9 October 1668, the son of William (not Richard!) Beale and Elizabeth Newenden.  He was a clothier of Biddenden, and his will, proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, showed he was an affluent man with many properties in an around Biddenden, though not quite as rich as his great-grandson would go on to be.  The mystery is – who was Richard’s wife?  Was it, as I intentionally supposed, Elizabeth Newington of Wadhurst, born 1680?  Or was it actually Elizabeth Henden of Biddenden, born 1690?

Richard Beale 1757 ii.jpg
The other side of the tomb

“Pedigrees of the Families in the County of Kent” by William Berry (1830) lists Richard’s wife as Elizabeth Newington of Wadhurst and the date of the marriage as 27th June.  This marriage is also listed in the England Marriages 1538-1973 index on Find My Past, so there is little doubt it actually took place.  However, there was a large Beale family in Wadhurst at the time (probably distantly related to those in Biddenden), including a Richard who was born in 1685.  Wadhurst is in Sussex, and is only about twenty miles from Biddenden, so it’s not impossible that Richard could have married someone who lived there, but it does seem to be a little out of the usual Beale comfort zone.  There was also a marriage the same year in Biddenden for a Richard Beale to an Elizabeth Henden, in January 1705.  The register lists both as “of this parish”.  I began to think Berry must have got it wrong and that Elizabeth Newington married the Wadhurst Richard.  The clincher for me was when I tentatively removed Elizabeth Newington from my tree, added Elizabeth Henden, and bang, there was a DNA match to a known descendent of the Henden family – an eighth cousin.  This could of course, be a red herring – I could be related to this person another way – but I haven’t had any matches with any Newingtons…

Berry's
From “Pedigrees of the Families in the County of Kent” by William Berry (1830)

Geoff, however, had some more facts that made me doubtful again.  He pointed out that there was another Richard Beale baptised in Biddenden in 1683 (who I will call “Other Richard”).  Other Richard was the cousin of Tombstone Richard and the son of John Beale and Joanna Nepecker.  Geoff thinks that it is Other Richard and not Tombstone Richard that married Elizabeth Henden.  Berry’s Pedigrees lists John as “S.P.” (sine prole – died with no children) but this is clearly not true as there are several entries for children for this couple in the Biddenden register.    Could Berry’s be wrong on John but right on Richard?

Henden DNA
AncestryDNA match with a known descendent of the Henden family

As I looked further into the index, it became clear that there were definitely two couples named Richard and Elizabeth Beale living in Biddenden.  The baptism register lists:

  • John baptised 27 May 1705
  • Mary  baptised 10 May 1706 
  • Charles baptised 22 Nov 1706 (? died 1712)
  • Seaman baptised 25 Dec 1707 (died 1708)
  • John baptised 27 July 1708
  • Elizabeth baptised 14 October 1709
  • Sarah baptised 13 July 1712
  • Anna baptised 17 March 1714
  • Richard baptised 29 October 1717
  • Seaman baptised 29 October 1720

If we assume that all these children were baptised soon after their birth, they could not all have the same mother, as the gap between their births would be too small.

Richard lies in a huge tomb in the churchyard at Biddenden All Saints, just to the front right of the church.  The tomb itself is in good condition but the inscription is impossible to make head or tail of.  Fortunately, nearly a hundred years ago a local historian named Leland L Duncan went round nearly every gravestone in Kent, writing down the inscription on every grave, and his efforts are now online on the Kent Archaelogical Society website.  He noted the following for Richard’s tomb:

 In memory of Richard BEALE of this parish and Elizabeth his wife. The former died 10th November 17(?3)7 aged (?89) years. The latter 28th (?) June 176(?4) aged 8(?1) leaving issue Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Ann, Richard and Seaman. On West endA chevron between three Griffins heads impaling (? three double-headed eagles). Crest a….head erased-

This tells us that the children whose name are not in bold type either died before their parents, or belonged to the other Richard and Elizabeth.  It is a shame that the dates and ages were the hardest to read, as these could be the biggest clue yet.  Richard’s actually died in 1757, but was indeed 89.  Elizabeth’s burial is missing from the register and index (it seems some pages are missing) but in 1764 Elizabeth Newington was 84 and Elizabeth Hendon 74.  Neither were 81, but certainly 84 would be easier to misread as 81 than 74.

Finally, I looked for some clue as what to happened to the other Richards.  Wadhurst Richard was apprenticed to a yeoman named Weston in Wadhurst in 1696 but there is no trace of him whatsoever after this.  Likewise, I can find nothing of Other Richard and his descendents.  No burial record, no monuments…  The Hendens were a rich and influential family in Biddenden, descended from politicians.  I do find it odd that a woman from this family would marry a minor Beale and then disappear completely.

Final Thoughts

I’m more confused that when I started.   We definitely have three Richards and at least two Elizabeths.  My instincts tell me that Berry’s is wrong, and that Elizabeth Henden lies within the tombstone.  I think a woman of her pedigree would be more suited to a rich Beale than his unknown cousin, and I have found no connection between Tombstone Richard and Wadhurst.  I think that Wadhurst Richard married Elizabeth Newington.  I have no idea who Other Richard’s wife was, or what happened to Wadhurst Richard after the wedding.

Next Steps

I think a trip to the SOG is in order to inspect the microfilm copies of the Wadhurst parish registers.  Should they say that Richard Beale of Biddenden married Elizabeth Newington, I will have to be prepared to eat my words.  But for now the Hendens remain as my ancestors, including the wonderfully named Northamptonia Henden.  I do hope I don’t have to part with her.

The lesson I hope people take away from this is that it is very confusing for genealogists three hundred years later if you insist on giving everyone in the family the same names.  Please consider your descendents and give your children unusual and varied names.  And make sure you don’t marry someone with the same name as your cousin’s wife, especially if you have the same name as your cousin.

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