The Four Martyn Sisters of Athelhampton

Tragedy and Wealth in Tudor Dorsetshire

Chapter 5 : The Later Marriages

Some time after completing her mourning for Chidiock, Jane decided to take a second husband. We don’t know the exact date of the ceremony, but by January 1591 she was wife of Tristram Dillington from Knighton on the Isle of Wight. Not quite so accessible to Athelhampton as her sisters’ houses, it was nevertheless a short boat ride away, perhaps via the harbours at Poole or Keyhaven. The latter was home of the Carews, distant cousins of the Martyns, who being just across the Solent from the Isle of Wight may have made the introduction.

But the tragedy had not yet played out: though we don’t know the date, we do know that Jane became a widow for a second time. Again, she decided to remarry, and in 1618 she took one of her neighbours on the island as her third husband: Edward Richards, from nearby Yaverland.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s husband Henry Brune sadly also died in the early 1590s, leaving her with a large brood of children, some of them still very young. Whether this death at a relatively young age was an indirect result of his time in the Tower is not recorded, though a stay there cannot have been good for anyone’s health. Like Jane, Elizabeth decided to remarry, celebrating her union with Thomas Hanham in August 1595 at Puddletown church, just a mile from Athelhampton.

The youngest of the four siblings, Anne, had held off from marrying. At the time when the sisters’ father, Sir Nicholas, wrote his final Will in the early 1590s, she was still described as single. Sometime around his death in the mid-1590s, she took the plunge and entered into a union with Anthony Floyer.

The Floyers were an ancient family from Exeter in Devon, where they lived in their centuries-old dwelling known as Floyer Hayes. This was much further from Athelhampton than the homes of the other Martyn sisters’ husbands, which may have influenced the newly-wed couple’s decision not to live there. Instead, they came to the tiny Dorsetshire hamlet of Stanton Gabriel, just west of Bridport and readily accessible to bride’s family. There may also have been another reason for their decision. In 1549, Exeter had been the scene of an uprising, related to the new Prayer Book and changes to land rights following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. There were deaths both during the event itself and in its aftermath, and this must have created deep and unpleasant divisions in the local community. Stanton Gabriel offered a remote location where their children could be brought up far away from such tensions; at least three appear to have arrived by around the turn of the new century.

But it was not distant enough to avoid the increasingly intense oppression of Catholics in the years after the Armada, and an extraordinary story is recorded. As Anthony approached death in 1608, the family’s priest was betrayed, and Anne bribed the informant to keep quiet. But he had already told the authorities, who arrived shortly after the money had been paid. The priest was arrested – but the bribe was not returned.