William was only 13 when his father died in 1641 and so was made a ward of the Crown until he came of age at 21 when a compounded sum of £1,450 would be due to the Crown. However, four years later, in 1645, Parliament, still struggling for victory over the King, reduced the sum to £800 providing it was paid immediately, half to the Parliamentary governor of Windsor garrison and half to the governor of Henley, to be used for the purpose of reducing Bucks, Oxon and Berks in the Parliamentary interest.
Like most Buckinghamshire gentry he seems to have sympathised with the Commonwealth since he was Sheriff of the county in 1656 at the age of 28, but he wisely headed the county’s subscription list for Charles II’s restoration in 1660.
He was a near contemporary of Admiral Sir William Penn (1621-70), the father of the famous William Penn the Quaker who founded Pennsylvania. Both he and the Admiral became convinced (wrongly) that they were descendants of the same family; the one pleased to claim a relationship with the leading Admiral of his day and the other, in reality the descendant of a yeoman, anxious to share the lineage of one of the three oldest families in Bucks.
William Penn the Quaker’s diary records a visit to Penn House in 1669 where one of William the Squire’s sisters was already a Quaker. Just over a year later the Quaker recorded the dramatic conversion of a second sister, ‘A sister of the family of PENN in Buckinghamshire, a young woman delighting in the finery and pleasures of the world, was seized with a violent illness that proved mortal to her.’ She had a vision of Christ ‘in the likeness of a plain countryman without any trimming or ornament whatever; and that his servants ought to be like Him’.
She said to those around her, ‘Bring me my new clothes, take off the lace and finery’; and charged her relations not to deck and adorn themselves ‘after the manner of the world.’ The heroine of the Quaker’s story was William’s youngest sister, Susan Penn, who was buried at Penn church on 30 Dec 1670.
In c.1652, William married Sarah Shallcross, the daughter (according to an unchecked, but plausible Mormon record) of Humphrey Shallcross, Sheriff of Hertford. Individual portraits of the young couple still hang in Penn House. They had at least 10 children, spread over 23 years between 1654 and 1677. Only one of four or five boys survived to adulthood – Roger Penn, who was to be the last of his family’s name. Only one child married – Sarah, who was the wife of Sir Nathaniel Curzon, the direct forebear of the Earls Howe.
William died in 1693, aged 64, and the monument on the north chancel wall records that he was buried at his request in the cemetery outside the church. This was unusual because the family vault was beneath the chancel. His wife died five years later and their grave, the oldest still legible in the cemetery, is a brick altar monument with a black marble top just outside the chancel south wall.
The memorial on the chancel wall shows the arms of both families (with the Penn roundels mistakenly re-painted in gold rather than silver). The Shallcross arms also appear on a plaque outside Penn House suggesting that the house was extended in their time.
© Miles Green, April 2010
Photographs, courtesy Eddie Morton, ARPS.