WHITAKER, Henry (c.1549-89), of Westbury, Wilts.; later of Plymouth, Devon.
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Family and Education
b. c.1549, 1st s. of Stephen Whitaker of Westbury by a da. of Henry Nash of Tinhead, Wilts. m. Judith, da. of William Hawkins of Plymouth, 3s. 1da. suc. fa. 9 Nov. 1576.1
The Whitakers were one of the most important families in the Wiltshire woollen industry. Although they may have been connected with the Lancashire family of the same name, by the middle of the sixteenth century they were firmly established in and around Westbury. In 1569 Stephen Whitaker took a new lease, for his own life and the lives of his sons Henry and Stephen, of a mill in Westbury which had belonged to Lord Mountjoy, and when he died in 1576 he possessed property in Westbury and Warminster. His son and heir Henry was then rising 28.2
Henry Whitaker appears to have led the life of a country gentleman, leaving it to his brother Geoffrey to conduct the clothing business, which Geoffrey did to considerable advantage. Henry’s preference may have been strengthened by his marriage to the daughter of William, and niece of Sir John Hawkins, which led him to acquire property in Devon and to settle in Plymouth, whither his younger brother Stephen was to follow him. He kept his lands at Westbury and Bratton, however, being assessed at 20s. for them for the subsidies of 1576 and 1586, and being sued in the Exchequer in 1578 by Francis Martyn in respect of those for which he was a tenant of the Queen. It was his local standing which procured his return, with another local man, Robert Baynard, for Westbury in 1586. Their return constituted a rejection of the Crown’s request on that occasion for the return of the Members of 1584-5, and in Whitaker’s case may be taken to reflect his social ambitions. There is no trace of his participation in the proceedings of the House, and if he hoped to sit again in the next Parliament he was evidently disappointed. His early death in November 1589 cut short his career and ambitions.3
He had made his will on 4 Nov., shortly before he died, and in it he expressed the hope of forgiveness of his sins through Christ’s passion. To Robert Whitaker of Westbury, probably a cousin, he left his best bow and 12 shafts. He bequeathed a 21-year reversion of his farm in Westbury to his daughter Elizabeth after his brother Geoffrey’s interest in it had expired; this reversion his brother-in-law William Bennett of Norton (perhaps a brother of the Westbury MP in 1588-9) and Richard Joy of Plymouth were to sell to her best advantage, his brother Stephen having an option to buy it and, failing that, being given an interest for his own life and two other lives in it. His wife Judith was given a 60-year, or life, interest in his bargain at Woodford and the reversion of his bargain at Tamerton, both in Devon, and if she surrendered her rights in the Westbury property to the heir she was to have one-half of the personal estate; she was also to enjoy the ‘government’ of the children and property as long as she remained a widow. The younger sons Anthony and Henry were to have £20 a year and the heir William all lands in Westbury if his mother remarried. The testator’s ‘cousin’ Richard Joy was appointed overseer, and his sons Anthony and Henry the executors. When Henry Whitaker lay on his deathbed his brother Geoffrey promised to leave Henry’s three sons something in his will; and this he did, to the tune of £10 a year each, when he came to make it ten years later. The death, in 1598, of William Hawkins also benefited the three: William received £10 and the others £5 under their grandfather’s will, while their mother was given his bargain of Hindwell, Devon. These windfalls did something to supplement their shares of their father’s estate, which compared unfavourably with the £1,000 in cash which Geoffrey Whitaker left to his own heir.4