Saturday, 21 November 2015

A Hint of Nobility

This is likely to be my last post for this year because in a couple of weeks I will be visiting my living relatives and won’t have time for writing about deceased ones.  So, I thought I would write about someone who hints at some particularly intriguing ancestry.

My ancestor Mary Hastings was born sometime before October 1671, the daughter of Henry Hastings and sister of Anne.  I don’t yet know her mother’s name.  Mary married Richard Preston after 1697, his second wife.  Mary and Richard had at least four children, a son, Robert, and at three daughters, including my ancestor Letitia.  Mary died in 1765, aged about 100 years old.  Her Hastings great grandfather had lived to a similar age.

Richard Preston was not a good choice of husband.  He had moved to Ireland from England to live in retirement, having lost what was left of his family’s fortune through gambling and an extravagant living.  He already had a son and heir by his first wife.  The Preston’s were Catholic Royalist landed gentry (they supported the losing side in the English Civil war).  Richard’s branch of the family was from Cockerham, Lancashire, and the lineage can be found in various early editions of Burkes Landed gentry.  Some of the later Preston lineages say that Mary Hastings was the relict (widow) of a Mr Dennis, however I think this is likely to be confusion with Richard Preston’s first wife, Mary Dennis.

So why am I writing about Mary Hastings when I seem to know so little for certain about her life?  It is because she was mentioned in an investigation into the Huntingdon Peerage conducted around 1820 by the Attorney General.  The details of the investigation are covered in “The Huntingdon Peerage” by Henry Nugent Bell (which can be found via Google Books and other similar web sites).

In 1789, the title of Earl of Huntingdon, held by the Hastings family, fell into abeyance.  Eventually, a male claimant wanted to prove that he was the heir to the title.  To do this, he had to prove that there were no other more senior male members of the Hastings family to inherit it.  As a result, a great deal of research was done into the various male lines of descent in the Hastings family.  Mary’s father, Henry Hastings, was one of the descendants of the 4th Earl of Huntingdon.  Mary and Ann were the only known children of Henry Hastings, so he had no known male heirs to calm the title.

I found the investigation of the Huntingdon peerage of particular interested because it shows how quickly a family line can die out, causing problems with the succession of titles.  The 3rd Earl of Huntingdon had six sons but the first two failed to have any male children and the third son’s male lines of descent disappeared within a few generations, so eventually the title went to a descendant of the third son.  Curiously, the currently holder of the title doesn’t have any sons and wasn’t the son of the previous title holder, so succession issues continue.

Getting back to Mary Hastings; Mary and her sister, Anne, were mentioned in the will of Ann Hastings nee Cracknell, their grandmother, who lived in Dorset and died in 1672, having written her will in October 1671.  Ann included a lot of detail about her children and grandchildren in her will.  She left little went to Henry or his children.  My assumption is that Henry, as oldest surviving son, had succeeded to property from his father and older brother.

As what was left of Richard Preston’s fortune went the son of his first wife, Mary was left with very little to support her young family after he died in 1721.  According to the obituary of Mary Hasting’s grandson in The Gentleman’s Magazine (see Google books), after Richard Preston died in 1721, she was supported by Theophilus Hastings, 9th Earl of Huntingdon, for many years.

The peerage investigation mentions that Henry Hastings and his daughters had moved to Dublin by 1682.  That seems to be the last known record of his life.  As any family historian knows, researching Irish ancestors is difficult, if not impossible; so uncovering more about the Mary’s life in Ireland will be quite a challenge.  However, much her of ancestry is another matter and is the stuff of history books, so may not be the topic of many future posts.

Notes on Lineage: Me > Mum > Daphne Madge Smith > Esther Ilma Lees > Fanny Sarah Eliza Briggs > Frederick Henderson Briggs > Henry Sparrow Briggs > Jehu Briggs > Letitia Preston > Mary Hastings