A Dangerous Woman: Mary Speke, her Family, and the Puritan Gentry

  • Melinda S. Zook
Part of the Early Modern History: Society and Culture book series


The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Mews, kept a careful watch over the Speke family of Whitelackington in Somerset. A thorough-going royalist, Mews was no friend to the many Puritan gentry families in the West Country about whose activities he made regular reports to the authorities in London. But of all the wealthy nonconformist families within his diocese, the Spekes rankled him the most. In early July 1683, Mews informed Secretary Leoline Jenkins that “Mrs. Speak, the wife of Mr. Speak of Whitelackington in this county is now in London and hath been there for some time. There is not a more dangerous woman in the West, and what her sons are I need not tell you.” A couple weeks later, the Bishop wrote to Jenkins again, imploring him to have Whitelackington house searched for arms and papers. “I need give no character of their family. I suppose it is sufficiently known how actively of late years they have all appeared against his Majesty’s interest, especially the mother and her son, Hugh ….”2


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    Wiltshire Quarter Session Rolls assert that Charles Speke was indicted “for marching in the late Duke of Monmouth’s army,” probably because he was confused with John Speke. Roberts, Life of Monmouth, 2: 223; Street, Mynster of Ile, p. 234.Google Scholar
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    BL, Add. 41,818, ff. 206–7; 79, 98–9. Captain Matthews was Sir Thomas Armstrong’s son-in-law. Armstrong had been executed for his role in Rye House Plot. The “fraternity” of rebels included, Major John Manley and his son, as well as John Starkey, and the printer, Awnsham Churchill.Google Scholar
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    George’s will made Mary the executor and transferred several manors to his youngest son, William, for the security of William over debts amounting to £10,000 for which George and William stood jointly engaged. Once the debts were paid, the manors were to be returned to the rightful heir, John. John contested the will, but the court found it valid. NA PROB 28/1249.Google Scholar
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    According to Robert Ferguson, “Mr [Hugh] Speak … hath been looked upon by reason of his folly, accompanied by his vanity, as the sport of society and the buffoon of the town … God hath denied him of understanding and good sense.” Letter to John Holt (London, 1694), p. 14.Google Scholar
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    Hugh claimed to be the author of the spurious “Third Declaration” of William of Orange which supposedly ignited Irish Night (the backlash against Catholics in London) during the Revolution. In 1703, Hugh petitioned Parliament for monetary compensation in consideration of all that his family had paid in fines under James II. He also had an account of his mighty deeds during the Revolution (Some Memoirs of Most Remarkable Passages and Transactions on the Late Happy Revolution in 1688) translated into French for George I. He also sent copies of his book to Archbishop Thomas Tenison and the Countess of Shaftesbury. See his letters in NA, PRO 30/24/28, ff. 4–5.Google Scholar
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    Their support for the Duke of Monmouth suggests their willingness to alter the royal succession; yet they also spread the claim that Monmouth was Charles II’s legitimate heir and they might have believed him to be so.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Melinda S. Zook 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melinda S. Zook
    • 1
  1. 1.Purdue UniversityUSA

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