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Fay Sampson’s Family History

This site is a work-in-progress. There is a massive amount to cover. I have included both male and female lines, and some go back 30 generations. Keep coming back for more.
I have numbered the generations working backwards from my own as (1)



ROBERT SOUTHCOMBE. In 1538, Thomas Cromwell, Vicar General to Henry VIII, ordered every parish to keep a record of its baptisms, weddings and burials. Unfortunately, the first Mariansleigh registers have been lost. We have so far only four documents naming the earliest Robert Southcombe of Mariansleigh.

From the 1569 Muster Roll for Mariansleigh, he appears to have a son Robert, whom we know, from elsewhere, to have been born in 1537.[1] This Robert junior seems to be his eldest son. This points to Robert senior’s birth being in the first decade of the 16th century. We may be back in the closing years of Henry VII’s reign. Henry VIII succeeded to the throne in 1509.

His father is probably the landowner William Southcombe, who appears in the Mariansleigh Subsidy Roll of 1545, but not in the 1569 Muster Roll. William and Robert are also named in successive deeds, a generation apart, relating to the ownership of property in Stockleigh English.[2]

It is possible that Robert’s father was living in Meshaw, adjacent to Mariansleigh, at the time of the 1524-27 Subsidy Rolls.[3] If so, then he was not yet a wealthy landowner. Robert’s grandfather was probably Hugh Southcombe, a landed gentleman of Crediton. Robert’s father would have inherited land at his death.


MARGARET FORSTER. There is no documentary evidence that Robert’s wife was named Margaret Forster, but there is no other credible husband for Margaret Southcombe of Mariansleigh. Her name heads a Southcombe family tree of unknown origin, which gives her death date as 1580 (approx.).[4] Three sons are named, including Robert. The name of her husband is not given. Her descendants were gentlemen, and this would fit very well with her being the wife of Robert Southcombe, gentleman, who was a leading parishioner of Mariansleigh in 1569.

There is a document of 1579 showing Margaret Southcombe as the patron presenting a new rector to the church of Stoke Pero, which lies on the northern flank of Dunkery Beacon in Somerset.[5] For nearly 200 years before Margaret, the patrons of Stoke Pero were members of the Forster family. The patron named after her in 1623 is the son of Joan Nutcombe née Forster This makes it virtually certain that Margaret herself was a member of the Forster family.[6]

From the ages of her children, Margaret was probably born not later than 1520, unless she was married very young. The patron of Stoke Pero in 1522 was John Forster, lord of the manor of Luxborough. He may be Margaret’s father. If he is the John Forster who died in 1576, his wife’s name was Joan.

Margaret did not pass on the advowson to her any of her children.

This raises another possibility, that Margaret was not the daughter of John Foster of Luxborough, but his wife. In that case, she must have been very young when she married him and been widowed soon after. She might have been left estates, including the advowson, for her lifetime, with reversion to the Forsters on her death.Her husband could no, then, have been the John who died in 1576.

Luxborough is a village on the northern slopes of the Brendon Hills in Somerset, 3½ miles south of Dunster. The Forsters owned land in many parishes in West Somerset since at least 1408.


Robert and Margaret lived through turbulent times. They must have married in the 1530s. This was the decade when Henry VIII broke with the Pope, because he refused to annul the king’s marriage to his first queen, Catherine of Aragon. The Act of Supremacy, making Henry ‘Supreme Head in earth of the Church of England’, was passed in 1534. It was followed by the suppression of monastic orders and the seizure of their property. It also meant the collapse of the education, health and social services the monasteries had provided. The king founded many schools to fill the gap.

The couple had at least two sons. There is a question mark over the third son named in the family tree. The fact that the tree gives Margaret as dying about 1580 strongly suggests that the compiler knew of Margaret’s will. The Index to Barnstaple wills 1563-1858 lists ‘Southcombe, Margaret, Mariansleigh. 1580’.[7] Unfortunately, this will has not survived. It was transferred to Exeter and was presumably amongst the many wills lost in the Blitz. Although the tree she heads includes more recent generations, it may have been originally compiled by someone who had seen the details of Margaret’s will before it was destroyed.

The tree begins: ‘Margaret Southcomb died in 1580 (approx.).’

It then lists three sons: ‘George Southcomb (1540?-1595), Humphrey Southcomb (-), Robert Southcomb ( – aft1595).

We now have additional information to supplement that family tree. We know, from a witness statement he made when he was 60, that Robert junior was born in 1537. The fact that he appears in the 1569 Muster Roll for Mariansleigh, but George does not, and that Robert married about 1560 and George in 1574, suggest that Robert, not George, was the eldest son, and that George was probably born later than 1540.

Confirmation that Robert junior and George were brothers is found in George’s will, which refers to ‘my trustie and wellbeloved in Christ Robert Sowthcombe my brother’.[8]

The critical problem is Humphrey. He may have been named as a third son in Margaret’s will, in which case the information is reliable, or the relationship may have been inferred because Humphrey Southcombe, like Robert, witnessed George’s will, though, unlike Robert, he is not mentioned in it and his relationship to George is not stated. Robert junior had a son Humfrye, who lived in Mariansleigh, and it may have been he who witnessed the will. There could, of course, have been two Humphrey Southcombes, one the son of Robert senior and Margaret, of whom nothing further is known, and the other their grandson.

Sometime between the Subsidy Rolls of 1524-27 and 1543-45 the family moved to Mariansleigh, SE of the market town of South Molton. Robert’s grandson, Humfrye, owned Yeo Barton, a high-status medieval farmhouse by the Crooked Oak brook on the northern edge of the parish. There is circumstantial evidence that Robert’s father, William, and his son, Robert junior, also lived there, and that William was responsible for some fine carving on the wall bench in the hall, which formed the main chamber of the house. Robert and Margaret may have lived there with him at first, or had their own independent household.

We find Robert senior’s name first in the Devon Subsidy Rolls for 1545. By then, he would have been perhaps have been his thirties, with a young family. Two Southcombes are named in the roll for ‘Marlegh’ or Mariansleigh. In 1545 Robert Southcombe is assessed for tax at an annual income of £2, and the following year William Southcombe for land at £12.

Two years later, in 1547, Henry VIII died. His son Edward VI was only a boy, and a sickly, though clever one. During his short reign, Archbishop Cranmer produced the English Book of Common Prayer to replace the Latin of the Roman Church. For all the beauty of its language, it incensed traditionalists, as did the banning of ecclesiastical vestments and the order to remove statues of saints from the churches and cease venerating them. Fury was particularly strong in the West Country. On Whit Monday 1549, the parishioners of Sampford Courtenay rose up against their rector and killed him on the steps of the Church House. They then marched on Crediton and Exeter with an army of Cornishmen in the Prayer Book Rebellion. Sampford Courtenay is only fourteen miles from Mariansleigh and the rising must have caused shock waves there. After the siege of Exeter was lifted, the rebels were defeated in a bloody battle near the village where it started.

The Southcombes then lived through the reign of Mary Tudor, ‘Bloody Mary’, (1553-8). She tried to re-impose Catholicism and burned 300 Protestants in four years.

Mary was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth I, who steered the country back to Protestantism, which exercised its own form of persecution, at the cost of growing enmity with Spain.


In 1569, Robert appears again, this time on the Muster Roll for Mariansleigh.[9] Elizabeth feared the massing of Spanish troops in the Netherlands and wanted the country to be armed and ready.

By now, probably aged over 60, Robert is one of the leading parishioners. His father does not appear, though as a wealthy landowner, he would have been expected to provide arms. He must by now have been dead, and Robert would have inherited at least some of his estates. He and Margaret  were probably now living at Yeo Barton, even if they were not before.

Robert is the first of three men who present the Muster Roll on behalf of the parish. He was, in addition, one of only two men considered affluent enough to be specially charged with supplying armour and weapons.

Marensleghe:  Presenters sworen:  Robert Southcomb  John Smale  Nicholas Britten
Who do presente as aforesaid
Robert Southcombe  G7 + 1 cors, 1 pike                              John Smale  G7

Robert’s assessment at G7 relates to his goods, not his land. It is the lowest category charged with personal responsibility for providing arms. It means he was deemed to have an income from goods worth £10 – £20. Given the value put on animals, these ratings are considered unrealistically low. G7, or the somewhat higher G6, seem to be normal for the parishes around, except where there are considerable landowners.

Robert would have to provide, like all those charged at that rate, a bow, a sheaf of arrows, a steel cap and a bill, which was a pike or halberd with a narrow, hooked blade. In addition, Robert was specifically charged with finding a corselet, which was upper body armour, consisting of breast and back plates held together with thongs, and a pike. John Smale, the only other parishioner specially assessed in Mariansleigh, did not have that extra imposition.

Being over 60, Robert senior would not have been among the ‘ablemen’ fit for military service. But the name of Robert Southcombe appears a third time, on the list of archers. This is almost certainly Robert junior. By now, he had a young family of his own. The second son George has not been found on any Muster Roll.

We know that not all the references were to Robert junior, because Robert senior was still alive in 1570.

This picture of Robert, or Robert junior, as a prominent citizen of Mariansleigh is borne out by John Hoker, an Elizabethan historian of Exeter and Devon. His list of nineteen free tenants in Mariansleigh in the reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603) is headed by ‘Robert Southcombe, Gentleman’. Robert is the only tenant designated a gentleman. A free tenant held land in perpetuity, with the right to pass it on to his descendants, on payment of a quit rent to the lord of the manor. His situation was more like that of a landowner than an ordinary tenant, whose lease was either for a fixed term or for the lives of three named people.

In addition, the Southcombes owned property in Stockleigh English, a village 12 miles SE of Mariansleigh. On 10 Oct 1570, ‘Roberte Southcombe of Marlye, gent’ granted a lease for 80 years, or for the lives of the lessees, to ‘George Bradforde and John Bradforde, sons of Robert Bradforde of Stockleighe Englishe’. Two previous Southcombes had similar arrangements with the Bradforde family for ‘messuages, lands and tenements in Bynneforde’. This is a historic property, whose records go back centuries earlier. It stands on Binneford Water, which flows along a deep valley into the River Creedy and forms the boundary with Kennerleigh parish. On this occasion, the consideration (down payment) was 20 marks. A mark was worth 2/3 of £1. The rent was 6s 8d, and the heriot (a duty paid on the death of the previous tenant), was the tenant’s best beast.[10] We know that this was not Robert junior, because he had by now left Mariansleigh.

The same year as the Muster Roll, 1569, their son Robert junior moved from Mariansleigh to in the little village of Satterleigh, five miles to the west. There, he was a landed gentleman, assessed in 1581 for land at £4, the highest in his parish, though not as high as William Southcombe of Mariansleigh had been in 1546.

No other Robert Southcombe has been found in the 1581 Subsidy Roll and there were then no Southcombes listed in Mariansleigh. We can assume that Robert senior died between 1570 and 1580, probably aged around 70. There is a bill in Chancery which mentions Robert Tooker, Margaret Southcombe, widow, and James Tristame, but it is dated only to the 16th century.[11]


Margaret was still alive in 1579. That was the year she presented the new rector to Stoke Pero.

1579 20 Sept. William Warren presented by Margaret Sowthcomb.[12]

Stoke Pero is a tiny church in an out-of-the-way valley south of Porlock. The church has been rebuilt, but the porch and the short tower would have been there in Margaret’s time.

Stoke Pero was said to be very difficult to get to it, with no fit road for carriages, and a track of loose stones dangerous even for horses.[13]

Margaret died in or shortly before 1580. Her will was proved that year in Barnstaple.

Their younger son George also became a landed gentleman, and Constable of Witheridge Hundred. George settled in Rose Ash. Robert junior’s son, Humfrye, returned from Satterleigh to live in Mariansleigh. In the 1630s, and probably as early as the 1580s, after his grandparents’ death, he owned the farm of Yeo Barton on the northern edge of the parish, which may have been Robert and Margaret’s home.


[1] Course of a will between Hatch & Tucker. 9 Feb 1597.  Moger Series I, No. 87. [DRO]
[2] A2A: Shelley of Shobrooke (DRO)  Z1/30/19-20
[3] T.L. Stoate (ed), The Devon Muster Roll for 1569 [WSL]
[4] Debbie Kennett.
[5] Charles Chadwycke Healey, The History of part of West Somerset, (1901), p. 236. [DRO].
[6] 15. FORSTER.
[7] WSL.
[8] Will of George Southcombe, pr. 8 July 1595 P.C.C. (Scott 45)
[9] T.L. Stoate (ed), Devon Lay Subsidy Rolls 1524-1527
[10] A2A: Shelley of Shobrooke (DRO)  Z1/30/20
[11] National Archives: C 4/118/27
[12] The History of West Somerset, p.236.
[13] James Savage, A History of the Hundred of Carhampton in the County of Somerset. William Strong, Bristol, 1830. http://books.google.co.uk.  





Sampson Tree