The Group: four intersecting lives in early modern Europe
Visit this monument
The Precincts, Canterbury CT1 2EH
The Precincts, Canterbury CT1 2EH
This is about two monuments – one known only from Stow’s Survey of London – and four people whose lives intersected in the early seventeenth century.
The Protestant theologian Hadrian à Saravia (1532-1613) was a peripatetic academic – a Morris Zapp of the early modern period. He was born in Hesdin, then in Flanders, his father Spanish, his mother Flemish. He started off as a Franciscan, but was converted to Calvinism and fled his convent in 1557. He made his first trip to England in 1559, and from then alternated between posts and countries, sometimes simultaneously holding positions in the Netherlands and England. From serving Walloon congregations in Brussels and Antwerp he became founding headmaster of Elizabeth College in Guernsey, and a minister in St Peter Port. He served as chaplain to William the Silent in 1568, and in 1571 became headmaster of Southampton grammar school. From 1578 he was based in the Netherlands, at Ghent and then Leiden, where he became first Professor of Theology and then Rector. He welcomed the earl of Leicester to the Netherlands in 1586, but settled permanently in England in 1588 following threats to his life in Leiden. Once permanently here he decided that episcopalianism was superior to Calvinism, and occupied a variety of church appointments, eventually combining a canonry at Westminster Abbey with a prebend at Canterbury. He became one of the translators of the King James Bible. His first wife, Catherine d’Allez, whom he married in 1561, died on 1 February 1606 and was buried in Canterbury Cathedral. He remarried at the end of that year, and died in Canterbury, where his second wife Margaret, née Wijts (1576-1615) put up a monument to him outlining his career and listing his places of residence:
DILECTO CONJVGI HADRIANO DE SARAVIA
MARGARETTA WIITS ADHVC SVPERSTES,
QVACVM ILLE NVPTIAS SECVNDO INIIT,
ANNOSQVE SEX PIE ET FELICITER VIXIT,
MEMORIALE HOC SINCERVM LICET
EXIGVVM AMORIS SVI QVASI PIGNVS
PONENDVM CVRAVIT. FVIT IS DVM VIXIT
THEOLOGIAE DOCTOR EGREGIVS, CATHE-
DRALIS HVJVS ECCLESIAE PREBENDARIVS
MERITISSIMVS. VIR, IN OMNI LITERARVM
GENERE EMERITVS, PIETATE, PROBITATE,
GRAVITATE, SVAVITATE MORVM INSIGNIS;
SCRIPTIS CLARVS, FIDE PLENVS, ET BONIS
OPERIBVS DIVES VALDE. NATIONE BELGA
NATVS HEDINAE ARTESIAE, REXIT
VONDAM LVGDVNI BATAVORVM, ANGLIAM
PETIIT PRIMO SVB INITIVM REGNI BEATAE
MEMORIAE ELIZABETHAE: DOCTOR
(LVGDVNI ANTE CREATVS) OXONIAE
POST INCORPORATVS EST.
IN MEMORIA AETERNA ERIT JVSTVS.
[To her beloved husband, Adrian à Saravia, Marguerite Wijts, yet living, who was his second wife, and lived faithfully and happily with him for six years, raised this sincere if inadequate memorial as a testimony of her love. He was while he lived an outstanding theologian, [and] a most worthy prebendary of this cathedral. He was a man eminent in all forms of literature, distinguished for his piety, honesty, seriousness and pleasantness of character; a lucid writer, full of faith and very rich in good works. He was of the Belgian nation, born in Hesdin in Artois, former rector of [the university of] Leiden. He first travelled to England at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth of blessed memory: later (having earlier been made a doctor at Leiden) his [degree] was incorporated by Oxford [University]. The just will be held in eternal memory. 1612 ]
Margaret Wijts (1575/6-1615) was well-connected, both to the northern European aristocracy, and to leading contemporary divines. She was the daughter of Jan Wyts de La Boucharderie, heer van Wildenburg (1528-1580) and his wife, Margaret (1548/9-1594) a member of the Lichterveldes, one of the oldest noble families of Flanders, whose father had served as president of Flanders. After her father’s death her mother had married Adolf van Meetkercke (1528–1591), a Flemish statesman and humanist, who served as chairman of the Flemish governing council, and fled Leiden with Hadrian à Saravia in 1588. From this marriage Margaret Wijts had half-siblings, including the clergyman and scholar Edward Meetkerke (1590-1657), and Elizabeth who married Thomas Westfield (1573-1644) who became Bishop of Bristol. Margaret Wijts served, presumably as a waiting-gentlewoman, in the households of Sir Horatio Palavicino (c.1540-1600), merchant, diplomat and spy, and (more importantly) the household of Kather ine Dudley Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (c.1546-1620), which was a godly – ie. protestant – household dedicated to the education of young aristocrats, particularly girls.
On 1 June 1614 Margaret Wijts Saravia married Dr Robert Hill (c.1568-1623) a clergyman of Puritan sympathies, and died in childbirth on 29 June 1615. Her husband erected a ‘fair monument on the North Wall of the Chancel’ of St Bartholomew by the Exchange (now lost), with an epitaph to her at least partly written by the poet Joshua Sylvester, a former pupil of her first husband, which celebrates her peripatetic life, while engaging in extensive word-play on her name, Margaret, which may also mean a pearl:
To Gods Glory
In pious Memory of the nobly-
vertuous, and religious Matrone, Mar-
garite, Wife of Robert Hill, Doctor
of Divinity, and Pastor of
Here lyes a Margarite
that the most excell’d,
(Her Father Wyts,
Her Mother Lichterveld,
Rematch’d with Metkerke)
of remarke for birth,
But much more gentle
for her genuine worth:
Wyts (rarest) Iewell,
so her name bespeakes)
In pious, prudent,
peaceful, praise-full life,
Fitting a Sara
and a Sacred’s wife,
Such as Saravia,
and (her second) Hill,
Whose joy of life,
Death in her death did kill.
Quam piè objit, Puerpera, Die 29. Junii, Anno
Salutis, 1615. Ætatis 39.
[She died piously in childbirth on June 29th in the year of Salvation 1615 aged 29]
Posuit Rob. Hill.
Composuit Jo. Syl.
[A proof of love, a token of honour and of grief, put up by Robert Hill and written by Joshua Sylvester]
Loquitur poft Funera Virtus.
[A blessed wife.
Virtue speaks after funerals]
From my sad Cradle
to my sable Chest,
Poor Pilgrim, I
did finde few moneths of rest.
In Flanders, Holland,
Zeland, England, all,
To Parents, troubles;
and to me did fall.
These made me pious,
patient, modest, wise:
And, though well borne,
to shun the Gallants guise.
But now I rest my soule,
where rest is found,
My body here,
in a small piece of ground,
And from my Hill,
that Hill I have ascended,
From whence (for me)
my Saviour once descended.
Live ye to learne that dye you must,
And after come to Judgment juft.
[The most grief-stricken husband]
Thy rest gives me a restlesse life,
Because thou wert a matchlesse Wife;
But yet I rest in hope to see,
That day of Christ, and then see thee.
MARGARITA, a Jewell.
I, like a Jewell
tost by Sea and Land,
Am bought by him,
who weares me on his hand.
Margarita beat, sed Margareta beavit.
O utinam possit dicier, ista beat.
The pearl delights, but Margaret delighted
O that one could say that the latter [Margaret] delights]
One night, two dreames
made two Propheticals,
Thine of thy Coffin,
mine of thy Funerals.
If women all were like to thee,
We men for wives should happy be.
MARGARITA surreptus est, Mons exarvit.[i]
[The pearl was stolen,the Hill is harrowed [ploughed]]
[i] Transcription from Stow, 1633. Orthography modernised, and lay-out rationalised as that in the book is probably not a faithful replication of the original.
While this seems a genuine expression of grief, it should be noted that a great deal of this epitaph redounds to the credit of Dr Hill, who came from a modest Derbyshire family, and seems never to have left England, but found himself married to a woman of noble stock, aristocratic education, wide experience of Europe, and a very distinguished previous husband.
Robert Hill was born in Ashbourne, of ‘mean but honest parentage’. He studied at Cambridge, where he became a Fellow of St John’s College. He moved in puritan circles, and established himself as a translator of the works of both English and continental Protestant divines, and as a writer and compiler of theological works designed for children and for the general public, including a popular catechism. In 1602 he moved to London where he occupied a series of posts, the last in 1613 being incumbent of St Bartholomew by the Exchange, in which he continued until his death. After Margaret Wijts’ death Hill did not remain single for long. Before his death he was remarried to the sister of his brother-in-law: Susan Westfield was the sister of the clergyman Thomas Westfield (1573-1644) who had married Margaret Wijts’ half-sister Elizabeth Meetkerke.
The last person involved in these commemorations is Joshua Sylvester (1562/3-1618), main author of Margaret Wijts’ epitaph. He was one of Hadrian à Saravia’s pupils at the Southampton grammar school, and evidently respected and stayed in touch with him. Sylvester began as a merchant (he may have spent some time as an apprentice to the Merchant Adventurers’ Company in East Friesland), but did not enjoy the life and found his true calling as a poet and translator of French protestant works, particularly those of du Bartas, thus having common interests with Hill. He was initially successful, attracting patronage from James VI & I and Henry, prince of Wales, but after the death of the latter in 1612 he was reduced to poverty and by 1617 he was living in Middleburg, Zeeland , working as secretary of the Merchant Adventurers there, and died there in 1618. At the time of Margaret Wijts’ death Sylvester was probably living near to St Bartholomew by the Exchange in St Bartholomew’s Hospital (his widow, Mary Sylvester, was living in the Proctor’s House there – redundant for the administration of the hospital by this date – in 1625). The precise date of Sylvester’s marriage is not known, but it has been speculated that her maiden name was Hill, which raises the intriguing possibility of a family link to Robert Hill, as well as their shared lines of work, the geographical proximity of their homes and their links to Saravia.
Saravia, Hill, and Adolf van Meetkercke were all well-known in contemporary British political and religious circles. Sylvester had some fame as a poet and translator. The people linked by these monuments represent an aspect of early modern Britain that is often overlooked – the interest in religious questions that was intense but not extreme, the close engagement in the ongoing religious and political war in the low countries, the contribution made by immigrants to British life. The reach of such ideas and events is summed up in a rather scruffy freestone monument in the small and remote village of Cudworth, Somerset, to Sarah Spye Smith, †1684, which reads
INFRA HVNC LAPIDEM RECONDVNTVR
EXVVIÆ SARÆ SMYTH VXORIS RI SMYTH
GENT ORTVM HABVIT EX ANTIQVA
SPYEORVM FAMILIA IN VRBE YPRA IN
FLANDRIA A QVA VRBE AVVS EIVS IN
EXILIVM PVLSVS ERAT A D DALVA
PROPTER RELIGIONIS PROTESTANTIS
PROFESSIONEM MORTVA EST DECIMO
DIE IVNII ANNO REDEMP 1684 ÆTATIS
63 CONIVGII 39 MEMORIA IVSTI ERIT
IN BENEDICTIONEM PRO:10.7. HOC
MARITVS EIVS IN MEMORIAM PIA
SVÆ VXORIS POSVIT
[Beneath this stone lie buried the remains of Sara Smyth, wife of Richard Smyth, gent. She had her origin in the ancient Spye family in the town of Ypres in Flanders from which town her grandfather was forced into exile by the Duke of Alva because of his profession of the Protestant faith. She died the tenth day of June in the year of our Redeemer 1684 in the 63rd year of her age and 39th of her marriage. ‘The memory of the just is blessed’, Prov. 10.7. This monument, such as it is, her husband has erected to the memory of his loving wife]
When Sarah Spye Smyth’s widower died a few months after her, his memorial stone, evidently from the same workshop, was inscribed in English, so the choice of Latin for her epitaph may indicate that he intended it to have a more cosmopolitan readership than his own.
Early Modern Britain was closely involved in the religious and political struggles in the Low Countries. The British sent military expeditions to help in the fight against Spain and Catholicism and welcomed prestigious refugees. A Low Countries exile in the family added glamour and an assurance that in the fight against evil popery, that family was on the right side. The impact of the names in Hill’s commemoration of his late wife was the same as in more modern times might be produced by Paderewski, Mandela, or even Zelensky. Hill probably was guilty of some harmless name-dropping, but the names he could drop were very prestigious indeed. And above all, on the testimony of the epitaphs, both of Margaret Wijts’s marriages were happy ones.
Jean Wilson 2023
 https://allaboutroyalfamilies.blogspot.com [accessed 21.04.2023]
 John Stow, The Survey of London: Contayning the Originall, Increase, Moderne Estate, and Government of that City, Methodically Set Downe. … Begunne First by the Paines and Industry of Iohn Stovv, in the Yeere 1598. Afterwards Inlarged by the Care and Diligence of A. M. in the Yeere 1618. And Now Completely Finished by the Study and Labour of A. M. H. D. and Other… (London, 1633), 192.
 Transcription from Stow, 1633. Orthography modernised, and lay-out rationalised as that in the book is probably not a faithful replication of the original.
 https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/london/vol1/pp520-525, [accessed 19.05.2023]
 ODNB entry for Joshua Sylvester, accessed on-line 19.05.2023