Written by: Leo Lawton
(King Edward I)
In the year 1042 Edward I was installed on the throne of England. For about a century most kings had ruled through a minister rather than directly, and so it was with Edward I. From 1042 until 1053 Edward I, with the aid of an exceptionally able minister, Godwin the Earl of Wessex, ruled very wisely.
During 1051 Edward I was paid a visit by his second cousin William, Duke of Normandy. William was descended from the dreaded Northmen (Norsemen, Normans) who had settled in northern France along the Seine River. During the course of this visit Edward, who had no heirs, promised William the right to succeed him as King of England. In 1053 Minister Godwin, Earl of Wessex, died, and his son Harold replaced him as minister, virtually ruling England. In 1064 William, Duke of Normandy, received the promise of Harold, added to Edward I’s, to support his candidacy for King. When Edward died though in 1066, Harold declared himself king.
Duke William was furious, and with an army invaded England in late September 1066. On the morning of October 14th, during the Battle of Hastings, Harold was killed and his army defeated. Duke William forevermore has been known as William the Conqueror, and on Christmas Day 1066 was crowned at Westminster Abbey. During the next four years he continued north, with his army of 25,000 to 30,000 men, subjugating all who stood in his way. The county of Cheshire, near northern Wales, was particularly hard to subdue, and although they were no match for King William’s army, the people fiercely protected their homes. King William I ruthlessly burned the countryside leaving a homeless wasteland.
(King William I)
King William I brought with him from Normandy a newer more advanced form of strong central government. In keeping with this, in 1085 he ordered that a survey should be made of all England that he controlled. Its main purpose was to establish the King’s fiscal rights. All known sources of revenue were listed including land, fisheries, people, livestock, and woodlands. The manuscripts from the survey, finished in 1086, were bound in two massive volumes known as the Domesday Book which are kept in the Public Records Office in London yet today.
King William I had won a country, and now he wanted to keep it. He not only had the people to deal with, but also he was unable to conquer Scotland or Wales. He decided that it was easier to contain them than defeat them so he set up strong Border States to repel possible invaders. One of these was Cheshire.
King William I named Hugh de Mara, a loyal Norman relative, Earl of Chester, and gave him all land within the palatinate. (It was called a Palatinate as the Lord had Royal powers.) Hugh, in turn, doled out land to fellow Normans who swore allegiance to him. He founded the Abbey of Werburgh for the Benedictines in 1093. Part of the Abbey possessions was the township of Lautune on the southeastern border of Cheshire. Before the conquest it had been called Lauton under Lyme. It consisted of about two and a half square miles of land divided into two parts, one about double the size of the other. In the Domesday Book, it was described as belonging to a man named Godric before the days of William the Conqueror. The possessors of Lautune after the conquest were surely the very elite of Normandy that had followed the fortunes of The Conqueror, and had been awarded the land by Hugh de Mara. As landowners they were given the honorary title of Squire denoting their status.
William I died in 1087, and was followed by his second son William II who, in turn, died in 1100 to be followed by his younger brother Henry I. Upon Henry’s death in 1135, Stephen, son of Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, became heir to the Throne. He, as the last of the Normans, remained in control until his death in 1154. As Stephen had no male heir, the son of Matilda, daughter of Henry I, came into power. Matilda had married Geoffrey Plantagenet, and their son Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II. King Henry II died in 1189 bringing his eldest son Richard I (the Lionhearted) to the throne. His reign lasted until he died in 1199, making his younger brother, King John, ruler of England.
(Richard the Lionhearted, King of England)
Although it is probable that any landowning families in Cheshire were descendants of those who had come from Normandy with William the Conqueror in 1066, it is during the reign of Richard the Lionhearted, that ancestors of a branch of a present day Lawton family are first recorded in the area. At this time a man named Adam was noted as the owner of a part of Lautune, the other part being owned by the Abbot and monks of Saint Werburg’s monastery. At the time people had only a first name, and were usually known by where they lived. Thus Adam would have been known as Adam of Lautune, or because of his Norman background, Adam de Lautune. Adam had three sons named Adam, Robert, and Richard. Richard, the youngest son, born before 1236, had a son Richard born between 1260 and 1280. That Richard, in turn, had a son also named Richard between 1280 and 1300. About this time surnames became required in England. For the sake of clarity, I shall call him Richard Lawton III.
Richard Lawton III married Cicely Astburie and they, between 1315 and 1330, became the proud parents of a daughter named Agnes.
Agnes married a man named Thomas de Davenport. Through his marriage to Agnes he became a landowner in Lautune, and thenceforth became known as Thomas de Lautune. Thomas and Agnes parented a son between 1330 and 1350 whose name is today unknown.
This unnamed son had a son named Hugh de Lautune born before 1378. Hugh was appointed an archer of the Crown November 5, 1398, in the principality of Wales. He married Isabella, daughter of John Madoc, widow of Ben Kynge Bernys (Barnes). Hugh and Isabella had two sons named Hugh and John, but all three men died before Isabella.
The eldest son, Hugh jr. did not marry nor have children, but the younger brother, John, married Beatrice, the widow of Thomas Maddock. John and Beatrice had a son named Richard before John died.
Upon the death of his grandmother, Richard became head of the estate. Richard’s wife’s name is unknown, but it is known that they had a son named John about 1470. On the 6th of January 1473 Richard was yet head of the estate when he lost a court decision to Hugh Pole over some disputed land.
Son John married Eleanor More and they parented three sons, the oldest William, being born around 1500. John was known to have been a very wealthy man. William was in control of the estate, when in 1542 King Henry VIII dissolved all monasteries and William, having the wealth to do so, bought the available land. William married Catherine Bellott and they had four sons and five daughters. The second son’s name was John. Born in 1521, John was 21 when his father purchased the monastery acreage. William died in 1551.
John Lawton, born in 1521, married Margaret Dutton, near to the time his father died. Between their marriage and 1560 they had five sons and a daughter. John died in 1598. Their eldest son, William, was born in 1553.
William married first Maria Wood. William married second Mary Maxfield before 1607 when their first child John was born. William and Mary also had a daughter Eleanor in 1611, and a son William in 1613. The elder William was known to have added large tracts of land to the Lawton estate before his death in 1617, when John was ten years old.
Upon William’s death, Ralph Sneyd was made manager of the estate, and given the honorary title of Lord of the manor. John Lawton married Ralph’s daughter Clare Sneyd. To John and Clare were born three sons and a daughter, named William, Ralph, John, and Felicia, between 1630 and 1635. In 1647 John paid a huge fine of 680 pounds, and was pardoned for waging war against King Charles I, himself beheaded two years later. His eldest son William, born in 1630, succeeded John, who died in 1654.
William was head of the manor in 1656, when it is said that Charles II spent some time hiding there while awaiting his restoration to the Throne. It was at this time that John Lawton was born, and Charles II as his Godfather, presented him with a silver drinking cup, remarking he had little else to offer.