[ Preface ] [ Ch1 Historical ] [ Ch2 - Noteable English Family ] [ Ch 3 16th Century Bicknells ] [ Family Characteristics ]
Thomas Williams Bicknell's 1913 genealogy
Book Chapter II
SOME EMINENT ENGLISH BICKNELLS
WILLIAM BICONYL, LL. D.
The first Bicknell of note of record, in Somersetshire, was
Rev. William Biconyll, a priest of the Roman Catholic faith, who
was the incumbent of two parishes in 1425. Later he was rector
of Cliffe, near Rochester, 1445; of Tring, at Herts; Canon of
Lincoln, with the prebend of St. Margarets, at Leicester, 1445
canon of Wells; canon of St. Paul's, 1445; comissary official of
the Court of Canterbury, and chancellor of the diocese, appointed
June 14, 1444. A greater proof of his ability is seen in the
selection of Dr. Bicknell, by the famous Archbishop Chichele, as
one of his trustees and executors. In All Souls' College, Ox-
ford, Dr. Bicknell's name appears on the College archives sev-
eral times between 1443 and 1446, and he was well known at
the University, where he took his LL, D. Degree. I dare say
much more could be found out about him at Oxford, London,
Canterbury, as well as the cathedrals with which he was officially
Dr. Bicknell signed his will November 3, 1448, and it is be-
lieved that he died the next day. His will, fortunately preserved
in its original abbreviated Latin, at Lambeth Palace Library,
London, England, is an excellent specimen of the kind of testa-
ment made by a devout Catholic dignitary in the first half of the
fifteenth century. That the testator was a man of culture and
wealth, a thorough-going churchman, not forgetful of the worldly
advancement of his family and the preservation of his own mem-
ory and immortality among men is abundantly shown in the
will. The bequests, large and small, exceed an hundred in num-
ber. They include five cathedrals, three convents, eight churches
and over thirty friends or acquaintances in legacies. Among
the latter were thirty-two cloaks, gowns, or vestments, a great
many chalices, cups, bowls, and ornaments of silver or silver-gilt,
as well as manuscripts, five horses, nearly £7oo in money, not
counting annuities. Many of the legacies were made to bene-
ficiaries in his own County of Somerset.
In his will, Dr. Bicknell expressed a desire to be buried in
the Chapel of St. Martin's in the Cathedral at Wells, England.
A picture of the tomb of Dr. Bicknell in Wells Cathedral is seen
on the opposite page. Under the tomb may be read the inscrip-
tion graven in Victorian letters:
BICONYLL, LL. D.
CAN. WELLENS, CANC. CANT.
Dr. William Bicknell's father's name was
John, and his
mother's Jane or Joane; he had one brother, John, and a sister,
Elizabeth. For twenty years, from 1448, a John "Byconyll" is
frequently mentioned in the records. He may have been Dr,
Bicknell's brother, to whom he gave money to buy land, for
we find John Byconyll buying between five and six hundred acres,
with other property, near Ashprington, in Devon, in 1451; the
names of the Byconylls, Lytes and Horseys are associated until
the sixteenth century.
On July 7 1455, Johannes Byknell and Stephen Hatfield were
returned to Parliament for Shaftesbury in Dorset, and in 1456,
"John Byconyll" served the office of escheator for Devon and
Cornwall, the first inquisition he held being on Elizabeth, wife
of Sir John Seyntmaur, Kt., whose grandson afterwards mar-
ried Elizabeth Chokke (Dame Biconyll).
Chancellor William Bicknell was a man of peace, but Sir
John was a man of war, at the same time he was intensely de-
voted to the church, and played a conspicuous part in civil, mili-
tary and church history in Somerset County, from 1470 to 1502
When Parliament was summoned to meet Oct. 6, 1472, at West-
minster, John Biconyll represented the United Counties of Som-
erset and Dorset, until the close of that Parliament, March 14
He was also sheriff for Dorset and Somersetshire in 1472
In 1474. John Biconyll owned the three manors of North
Perot, South Perot and Pepilperis, as well as the advowsons of
the first two; he also took an active interest in the religious guild
founded in 1482, at Croscombe, three miles from Wells, "in honor
of God, the Blessed Virgin and St. Anne."
At this time he made up his mind to stake his fortune on
the cause of Henry of Richmond, and this ended in his fighting
so valiantly at the battle of Bosworth Field that the triumphant
king knighted him on the battlefield, August 22, 1485, together
with his two friends, William Courtney and the Baron of Carew.
On his return home, October 4, Sir Knight Byconill made a
curious arrangement with the warden of the Franciscans at
Dorchester, the chief points of which were as follows:
1. The devout and venerable man, John Byconill, Kt., to
be admitted as one of the founders of the Convent on account
of his having first established mills on the water running thereby.
2. The Conventual High Mass to be principally granted and
appropriated to him.
3. The monks to bind themselves forever to celebrate his
decease on the day after the feast of their Holy Father, St,
4. The same John and such as shall by him be recommended
to be prayed for by name every week in the Chapel House.
5. That these ordinances and decrees of the said John, con-
cerning the mills, be punctually observed, namely:
First. That there be yearly laid up in a chest, secured under
three locks, 40s. for the profits of the mills for repairing them;
the chest to be in the custody of the guardian or in the porch.
Second. That the brother who is Hebdamadarius, praying for
the said, shall at the end of the week receive 6d.; if he neglects
to pray he shall receive nothing.
Third. That every priest praying from the beginning to the
end of the obsequies and Mass for the said John shall receive
4d., and laymen 2d.
Fourth. That all profits, after paying the aforesaid ordina-
tions, shall he laid out towards bringing boys into the order, and
their education is good manners and learning; and that the bro-
thers so brought up and educated to the perpetual memory of
the said John be called Biconyll Friars, and that none of them
be called by their surnames.
Item. The recommendation of the said John shall he made
in this form: "Pray especially for the happy state of the Devout
and venerable man, John Byconill, Kt., and on account of the
first erecting mills upon our water, the chief founder of
place, and for his soul, when he shall depart this life."
It is believed that Sir John Biconyll was the son of John and
nephew of Chancellor William Biconyll, and the grandson of
John Biconyll. In his will, written with his own hand, dated
August 15, 1500, he sets apart the profits of certain lands for
prayers "for my soul, the souls of Elizabeth, my wife, Johan
late my wife, my father's and mother's souls, my godfather's and
godmother's souls, the soul of my brother William, and all my
brethren and sisters' souls."
Sir John lived at South Perot Court or Manor House, ad-
joining the west side of the church yard. He married Johan,
Joan or Jane Sydenham for his first wife, according to A. Sidney
Bicknell. She died without issue, and he married second, be-
tween 1485 and 1488, Elizabeth (Chokke) Seyntmaur, widow of
John Seyntmaur (Seymour), and daughter of
Chokke, a family of considerable wealth and antiquity. The
second marriage was also without issue. The
brass of John
Seyntmaur and his wife, afterward Dame Elizabeth Bicknell, is
now in the Church of St. Gregory, Beckington, an is represented
on the opposite page.
After the accession of Henry VII, October, 1485, Sir John
appears to have lived on his estates in Somerset and Dorset, a
trusty servant of the crown, and taking an active part in poli-
tics. December 23, 1488, he was commissioned to examine how
many archers the nobles and knights of Somerset were bound
to furnish the king's army for the expedition to Brittany; and
in September, 1497, when Henry marched to Taunton during the
rebellion of Perkin Warbeck, Sir John Bickncll accompanied his
Majesty "with a large number of noblemen, knights, esquires,
and valiant personages, prepared and readie with all thinges
necessary for the fielde and battaile."
One of the last acts of Sir John Byconill's life was to estab-
lish and endow two chantries in April 1, 1501; one in the Lady
Chapel of Bishop Stillington, adjoining the cloisters of Wells
Cathedral, and the other in the Cathedral itself; "per nobilem
virum dominum Johanum Bicconell fundatas."
Sir John died August 23, 1502, and was interred
sepulture of Glastonbury." After naming certain gifts, he gave
the body of his estate to his stepson,
making him and his mother "Elizabeth, my wife," executors of
His Widow, Elizabeth, died June 3o, 1504, and her will is the
complement of her husbands. One circumstance of both wills
is that Sir John and his wife Elizabeth were far in advance of
their day in the value they attached to college education as be-
tween them both, in their wills, they provided for the support
of ten scholars at Oxford University, which was then three cen-
turies old. In spite of their superstitious devotion to priests, as
noted in their wills, they certainly regarded the possession of
knowledge and sound learning excellent qualifications for life.
In reading the long details of the wills of Chancellor William
Bicknell, Sir John Bicknell and his widow, Elizabeth, one is
deeply impressed with the earnest spirit and the current religious
sentiment of that early English type of men and women of our
name and blood. One is also impressed with the utter vanity
of planning and endowing for ages to come, for we find arrange-
ments establishing chantries, obits, priests and scholars, legacies
to cathedrals, abbeys churches, with ordinances solemnly en-
rolled, to last for all future time. And yet within a generation,
the decrees of the rapacious and capricious Henry VIII, and his
"harsh and dogmatic son," Edward VI, confiscated, appropriated
all the moneys and artistic treasures of the churches and mon-
esteries, and eventually despoiled and ruined the very shrines
and sanctuaries. Gifts and donors were involved in one common
doom, and thenceforth the history of the wealthy and powerful
Paveley-Bicknells, their descendants and many of their friends,
recedes into a mediaeval twilight, obscure to the genealogist.