Saturday, 19 December 2015

John Machell (1509-1558) (52 Ancestors Week 51) Theme: "Nice"

The holiday season is traditionally a time for getting dressed up nicely to go out on the town. It seemed like a good week to feature my 11th great grandfather John Machell of London, England, who was, among other things, a haberdasher. Don't let the simplicity of that job title fool you - John was not just a shopkeeper!

Even the name "haberdasher" evokes nice images of refined dressing. A haberdasher is someone who sells small items for sewing, things like ribbons and buttons, and can also be a dealer in men's furnishings such as suits and shirts. Sadly, we don't have haberdashers, as such, in Canada today.

No, this isn't John Machell, but is representative of men's fashions in Tudor times
Portrait of a Young Man by unknown artist, in the Public Domain  from Wikimedia Commons
John Machell was born about 1509 and led a nice, if short, life. By the time he was 40, he was a wealthy wool merchant living at the elegant red brick Tudor-style Sutton House which had been built a decade or so earlier by Sir Ralph Sadleir, one of Henry VIII's Privy Councillors. The house is considered today to be haunted. Dogs are often heard wailing in the dead of night. These are thought to be the dogs that belonged to John Machell when he lived there. Whenever dogs come into Sutton House, they often stop short at the foot of the staircase, hackles raised, staring at something on the staircase invisible to the human eye. Another ghost is thought to be that of John's daughter-in-law who died giving birth to twins in 1574. The house is now restored and under the auspices of the National Trust; a visit would seem to be in order.

Sutton House, Hackney, London September 2005
Photographer : Fin Fahey, Wikimedia Commons

John married Joan Lodyngton, daughter of Henry Lodyngton and Joan Kyrby. They had three sons - John Machell the younger, Matthew (my 10th great grandfather) who was born about 1535 and Thomas, the youngest.

John was obviously a successful businessman. He was Master of the Clothworkers' Guild 1547, Auditor of the Clothworkers' Guild 1551-3, Alderman of the City of London 1556-8 and Sheriff of London 1555-6. The position of Sheriff of London today entails only nominal duties, but in John's time, it would have meant that he was expected to attend the judges at the Central Criminal Court Old Bailey and take on judicial responsibilities. Two sheriffs were elected each year, one of whom was an alderman (like John) and eventually that person was expected to become the Lord Mayor of London. This didn't happen in John's case - perhaps because he was not a well man by that time.

John Machell died in August of 1558.

Funerals at the time were elaborate events steeped in rules of pageantry. Each person's status determined what position in the procession he or she would occupy and what colours and items of clothing they were expected to wear. No doubt the haberdashers were kept very busy outfitting people properly for these events.

Thanks to an informative contemporary history written by fellow clothworker Henry Machyn, we know that John's corpse would have been covered with a pall of black velvet, borne by yeomen in black coats and assisted by gentlemen in gowns and hoods. The order observed by the Lord Mayor, the Aldermen and Sheriffs for their meetings and wearing of their apparel throughout the year was printed in Stowe's Survey and stated that the following was to be worn for the burial of an Alderman (such as John) as the "last love, duty and ceremony one to another": the Aldermen were to wear their violet gowns, except such as have black gowns or mourning. When an Alderman died, the master Swordbearer was to have a black gown and to carry the Sword in black before the Lord Mayor. The Master Chamberlain was not to wear his tippet (long ceremonial scarf) unless the Lord Mayor or Aldermen wore their scarlet or violet. For John's funeral, the arms were described as "Per pale argent and sable, three grey-hounds courant counterchanged, collared gules."

Machyn describes the offices that John had held and added that he was married to "Jone", daughter of Harry Lodyngton who then remarried to Sir Thomas Chamberlen, knight, and died herself 28 April 1565.

John had made his will on 26 July 1558 "in the 5th and 6th years of the reign of our sovereign Lord and Lady King Philip and Queen Mary." (Catholic Queen Mary I would herself die just four months later.) He obviously knew that he would be entitled to a special funeral for he makes this comment in the preamble to his will: "And my body to be buried in Christian burial after a decent and convenient order according to my Estate degree and vocation as shall be thought meet and convenient by my overseers."

He left one-third of his estate to be divided equally by his children, one-third for specific legacies (many to the poor and to his extended family) and the remaining one-third to his "well beloved wife Joan Machell". The estates that Joan received for her lifetime over and above any jointure or dower to which she would be entitled included among others the manor of Guilden Sutton in the County of Chester and all other lands there, his manor of Burneshed with the appurtenances in the County of Westmorland and all his lands in Hinton in the County of Southhampton and Dorset. His land holdings were extensive resulting in a will that went on for several pages. His three sons were left his jewellery including gold chains, rings and brooches. Quite clearly John Machell had led a very nice life indeed.


  • 573.html
  • "The Diary of Henry Machyn, Citizen and Merchant Tailor of London from AD 1550 to 1563" accessed online 4 December 2015 at
  • "Aldermen of the City of London" website accessed online 4 December 2015 at
  • Will of John Machell posted to by MerilynPedrick63 based on transcription done by Bridget Machell 2011 accessed 4 December 2015

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