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Janet Meads - 2007/8

The Life and Times of
Dr. Robert Sybthorpe
Doctor of Divinity
Rector of Burton Latimer
1627-1644 & 1660-1662

Robert Sybthorpe's signature

From 1607, Burton Latimer parsonage (as it was then known) was held by John Owen, a royalist and one of King Charles I chaplains, he also held other livings at the same time. In 1629 he was promoted to Bishop of St Asaph in Wales, to make way for a new parson, Robert Sybthorpe.

Not a lot is known about the early life of Robert Sybthorpe he was ordained priest at Peterborough in 1606. Through royal patronage he became vicar of St. Giles Northampton in 1607 and he then became vicar of St Sepulchres, Northampton in 1618 and subsequently vicar of Brackley from 1622 - 1644, he became parson of Burton Latimer in 1629 from where he was ejected in 1644 for his royalist sympathies. He was re-instated in 1660 at the end of the Civil War troubles and he there continued until his death in 1662. He is buried in the chancel of the Church of Burton Latimer as requested in his will.

The reason Robert Sybthorpe was granted the living at Burton Latimer was because whilst he was vicar of Brackley, in 1627, he preached a sermon at All Saints Church in Northampton, on the divine right of kings and passive obedience, which pleased King Charles I so much that he suggested it should be published. The then Archbishop of Canterbury (George Abbot) refused to grant a licence to publish such ideology and immediately after his death in 1633, a new archbishop (William Laud), who had more sympathy with the King's wishes was appointed. Sybthorpe was however rewarded for his views by being made a King’s chaplain and given the benefice of Burton Latimer in 1629 whilst still holding Brackley, this was the year when the King dissolved Parliament and ruled the country without it for eleven years. Robert Sybthorpe had married a daughter of another royalist sympathiser, Sir John Lambe, who was an Ecclesiastical Lawyer, Dean of the Arches and a Chancellor to the Queen, he was at one time known as the most hated man in the County. Like Sybthorpe, he had strong convictions on how the Church should be run, both of these men believed that the church services should be held with great piety and ceremony. What the inhabitants of Burton Latimer thought about it is not recorded. Little is known of Robert Sybthorpe's wife, there are no recordings of her in the parish registers of Burton Latimer, they do not appear to have had any children and her death is not recorded at Burton. The only mention of her in Burton Latimer records is on a licence requested for her to eat flesh on fish days during an illness in 1632 when we learn her name was Susan. Click here to read the Licence

One of the first things Robert Sybthorpe did when he arrived at Burton Latimer in 1629 was inspect the church building and he decided it needed improvement. The churchwardens levied a tax on the inhabitants of the town in 1630 to provide enough money for the work, most of which seems to have been on the battlements and the steeple. The churchwardens accounts record the work that was carried out using this money and at the end of the year the accounts show that 17 shillings and 4 pence had been over spent and was owing to the churchwardens.

Robert Sybthorpe obviously did not approve of the way the parish affairs had been recorded previously and set out certain rules which were to be adhered to. .The Burton Latimer Churchwardens’ Accounts are littered with long documents, signed by Robert Sybthorpe which show that he was a very meticulous character. Click here to read one of his first entries. Any confrontation between church, community or individuals were written out in great detail and placed in the Churchwardens Account Books for safe keeping. All incomes and payments from the accounts were described in full and published at the Vestry Meeting on the first Sunday after Easter, when the parishioners were expected to attend the service and the meeting thereafter and sign their names after the accounts were audited and passed. Click here to read the names of those present

How much of his time was spent around the county on his judicial committments, how much time he spent in Brackley and how much in Burton Latimer or elsewhere is not known for sure, he was obviously a very busy man but he seems to have spent a fair amount of time making sure that the affairs of the Parish of Burton Latimer were in good order. His residence in Burton Latimer would have been the Parsonage opposite the church, it was quite an extensive house with several out-buildings, as can be seen by the glebe terrier of the church property and land recorded in 1632. The house would have been located in the same area as the old Rectory and grounds but was not the same house, this was built at the time of the incumbency of the Reverend Dolben, many years later.

One of the first things he did after his arrival was set down instructions for the churchwardens. He ordered that all parish monies must be accounted for and that all the parish records were to be kept in the church chest; it was to have three locks and three keys, one for the parson and one for each of the churchwardens, which would prevent any one of them being able to unlock the chest without the others knowing. It is notable that after his arrival and during his incumbency, the churchwardens accounts are very explicit. They seem to include every transaction that took place involving parish accounts, including each inhabitant's payment of the levies and the expenditures made, from paying for moles that had been caught as vermin, to buying loads of stone etc. for the repair of the church.

In 1637 there was a Church Visitation, after which a list was drawn up of all the things that needed to be put right in the church. It seems that much had been neglected and a lot of work needed to be done which Sybthorpe set to work about almost immediately. Although much work had been done in 1630 on the steeple and battlements, and some repairs had continued in the following years, the visitation recommendations set work in motion once again.

In order to keep the church in good repair and to pay for work needed in the town it was possible for the churchwardens to set a levy or tax. Anyone in possession of a cottage or land was required to pay this tax in accordance with the amount of land they owned, at a charge for each yardland. Consequently in 1630 Thomas Bacon, who it is believed owned the Hall, had to pay 15s for his 3 yardlands whilst Brian Bellamy paid 6d for being allowed to keep his cows on the common land. From 1630 to 1643 the churchwarden's accounts record all transactions involving any monies being paid out and any monies being received from levies per household or rent received from the church-owned lands.

All persons attending the Vestry Meetings which were held on a Tuesday in Easter Week after evening prayers were required to sign their names or put their marks after the totalled acccounts, all persons eligible to pay taxes in the town were recorded as having paid and all these lists were engrossed in the Churchwardens Account Books. These lists give a good indication of the number of householders living in Burton Latimer during Robert Sybthorpe's time and their status in the town.

The constables, at this time, were also required to keep detailed records of all transactions. They were also able to levy taxes on the inhabitants for payments incurred, such as people passing through the town who were in need of a bed for the night, paying for the upkeep of the whipping post, keeping watch on the night of the feast and of course, dealing with any crimes committed.

As previously stated it is not known how much time Robert Sybthorpe spent in Burton Latimer. There were several times during his incumbency that he was required to act in his role of Justice of the Peace between local inhabitants. On these occasions the proceedings were recorded extensively in the Churchwardens Account Books so that they could be referred to in any future dispute. In 1633 he had to deal with a dispute concerning a hedge, known as Penn Hedge, which enclosed a 4 acre plot of land. It had been planted many years previously by the parishioners and kept in good order so that the town's cattle were kept from straying. It was adjacent to another plot of common land called then, as now, the Wold or Old, where furze and thorns grew and where the inhabitants of the town were able to collect wood for mending fences and the like and collect the thorns and furze for firewood and thatching. The dispute arose when in the "dear year" of 1632 a great number of the inhabitants of the town encouraged, it was said, by Mr Bacon, descended on the Wold "in the night time about two of the clock after midnight being armed with halbards, pikestaffs, pistols, swords, daggers and other warlike weapons" they assembled in troops and "with axes, hatchets and other instruments fit for such purposes did cut, hew down, dig up and destroy" the hedge and took away the furze and thorns "to the quantity of one hundred loads at least." Robert Sybthorpe as Arbitrator had to decide who was to blame and had to pass judgement, all of which is recorded in the account books.

Between April and July 1639 Robert Sybthorpe wrote several letters to Sir John Lambe which are still in existence. The letters show that he is beginning to get paranoid about people trying to find fault with his ministry and he believes that some are plotting against him because of his royalist principles. The letters show that he is afraid his remarks will fall into the wrong hands and be used against him and he makes several requests for the letters to be taken care of or returned to him. He is very reticent about using specific peoples' names which makes it difficult to know the person he is writing about. The letters also show that he is concerned about his Burton Latimer curate, Thomas Birde who he wishes to promote to a living and he is also concerned when the then constable of Burton Latimer, George Plowright, is pressed into the army and after paying £10 for another resident to take his place, is still pressed. An interesting part of the letters shows him acting as an informant and writing to Sir John Lambe about how Kettering is preparing for an invasion of puritan soldiers coming to that town at this time. He does seem to be quite nervous and possibly with good reason. [The Sybthorpe letters will be published later]

In London in 1640, due to lack of money, King Charles I had to re-instate Parliament. At this time, in Burton Latimer, the churchwardens account book shows a list of all the “ornaments, books and utensils” belonging to the church which were passed from the churchwardens from one year to another.Click here to read the list of church goods The accounts are then inscribed as usual, in the book and signed by Robert Sybthorpe and those parishoners who were present at the vestry meeting. On 27th April 1641 the new Churchwardens, Overseers of the Poor, Stone Reeves, Neatherd and Hoggard were elected and recorded and Thomas Douglas was chosen as Clerk for the next three years, to write the town accounts and have ten shillings a year for his wages. The accounts are written up to the following April when the meticulously kept pages cease.

In 1641 Robert Sybthorpe's fears became reality and after some complaints the House of Lords Committee decided that he should be sent for as a "delinquent" and it was ordered by the House that he should be brought before the Lords Committee. After his appearance he was given bail and later allowed to return to Northamptonshire for Easter but later in 1642 Robert Sybthorpe was ejected from his living and fled to London, where it is said he lived in great poverty and his place in Burton Latimer was occupied by puritan sympathisers. It is not known how the people of Burton Latimer viewed the Civil War or if any of them were involved in any way, there are few church records from this time. In April 1645 there is a note in the account book which states that a levy was made by Mr Baynard, Minister and the neighbours, for 4d for every house to pay for the sexton’s wages and three other items which together equalled £1 and it was signed by only four men. Gone were the days of meticulously kept records and the lists of inhabitants names and the insight into their lives. Even the parish registers were allowed to lapse with only a few events entered into them and a memorandum in 1643 relates "The three yeares following were most of them lost in the tyme of the warres; what could be found was incerted or appeareth; Michael Swinson being the clerke (as he saith) lost the notes of the names which hee had taken on paper so they could be ingrossed. As of Baptizings so of Marriages and Burialls as appeare in this work".

In 1660 with the return of the monarchy Robert Sybthorpe returned to the parsonage at Burton Latimer. By this time he would have been a relatively old man and he lived for only another two years. His will requests that he be buried in the chancel of Burton Latimer Church and this was duly carried out. The parish register recording the burial on 25 April 1662 of "Robert Sibthorpe, Dr. in Divinity, one of His late Majesty's Chaplaines & Rector of this Church.”

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