The Shirley Association has been a member of the Guild of One-Name Studies since 1988





  from Ian Isley

I have been researching the Isley story and have great amounts of detail going back to John De Insula and his grandson Ralph Isle (Isley) who died in May 1429.   Ralph Isley's grandson was Thomas Isley born about 1486 who married Elizabeth Guildford who was born about 1490.   Thomas and Elizabeth Isley had ten sons and three daughters.   There is a brass gravestone in Sundridge (Kent) church of a man in armour, Thomas, and his wife, Elizabeth, with ten sons and three daughters. 

The eldest son, Sir Henry Isley, was executed for high treason and the family's estates were confiscated by the crown but that's another story.  I noted from the page on the male descendants of Ralph Shirley that Richard's second wife was Elizabeth Guildford who was almost certainly Thomas Isley's widow.

I also noted that William Shirley married a Mary Isley and that their son was Sir Thomas Shirley, the elder.  It would seem that the Shirley's and the Isley's are somewhat linked !

When Mary the First (Mary Tudor) was crowned in 1553 she removed the Church of England as the official state religion and restored the power of the Pope.   In 1554 there was an uprising in the U.K. and in Kent, Sir Thomas Wyatt, had 10,000 men at Rochester ready to march on London.   Sir Henry Isley with men from his home, Sundridge and Sevenoaks marched to meet up with Sir Henry Wyatt but he was intercepted at Wrotham by Baron Nevill and defeated.  Sir Thomas Wyatt was captured in London and executed at Tower Hill, London and Sir Henry Isley was executed at Sevenoaks.

My reasons for all the foregoing is as follows.   I am fairly certain that the Mary Isley who married William Shirley could have been one of the three daughters of Thomas and Elizabeth.   There is no doubt in my mind that Mary persuaded her son, Sir Thomas the Elder, to change his religion to Protestant because of what happened to her brother, Sir Henry Isley, Sir Thomas the Elder's uncle.

As I said, all the Isley lands were confiscated by the crown but in 1563 Sir Henry's son, William, bought back the estate from the crown for one thousand pounds plus an annual rental of 22 pounds, 12 shillings and 1 penny.   Unfortunately he went into debt and lost the lands thirteen years later in 1576.

Mary the First only reigned for five years but after Sir Henry's execution I am sure that the Isley's scattered far and wide to save them being persecuted.  Those that did not scatter then would have to leave when they lost their lands in 1576.

My next story concerns William and Barbara Isley and William's brother John who sailed on the "Confidence" on 30th April 1638 to Massachusetts.   For some unknown reason their name is given as Ilsley but they were Isley's before they left Newbury in Berkshire.  William is listed as one of the early settlers of Newbury, Essex County and a John Elsly (Isley) was one of the early settlers in Salisbury, Essex County.  A John Isley is listed as being born in Salisbury in 1618 - this is twenty years before William and John sailed !   It is a coincidence that William Shirley (1704 - 1771) became Governor of Massachusetts - he had Isley blood in him !

The Isley/Shirley tie up may have occurred even before (a) Elizabeth Guildford or Guldeford (Thomas's Isley's widow) became the second wife of Richard Shirley or (b) before Mary Isley married William Shirley

The family of Isle or Isley was called in French deeds " De L'Isle " or in Latin deeds " De Insula " and I have discovered that a Gilbet (Hubert) Blount, possibly Elizabeth Blount's ancestor, born about 1120, died about 1188, married Agnes (de Insula) De L'Isle in about 1152.

John De Insula was Ralph Isley's grandfather


From a letter sent by Ian Isley Sept 20th, 1999

The first name on record is Roger Isle (Isley) who died on the 16th May 1429. Unfortunately there are no records of his date of birth or marriage. Roger, who was the grandson of John De Insula, lived in the time of Sir Ralph de Fremingham who held the manor of Sundridge, Kent. Roger Isley married Ralph's sister , Joanne, and when Ralph died the manor went to his kinsman and heir - Roger.

Roger had two sons, William and John and it was John, the younger son who inherited the estate when Roger died. John also had a son named John who was Justice of the Peace and sheriff. This John married Annis Morley and they had a son named Thomas. There may have been other sons and daughters since Roger's William and John but I have no record of them.

Thomas Isley was born about 1486 and he married Elizabeth Guildford or Guldeford the daughter of Richard Guildford and Ann de Pympe.  Elizabeth was born about 1490 and one of their three daughters, Mary, was born about 1512. I think Thomas died about 1518 so his widow, Elizabeth, would have married Richard Shirley after that date. The only other date I have for Mary is the date of her marriage, 1541. She would have been about 29 when she married William Shirley.

Enclosed are some extracts from history books that cover the capture of Sir Henry Isley the eldest son of Thomas and Elizabeth.

SEVENOAKS ESSAYS: Dr. Gordon Ward, page 20: STREET HENS.

It is recorded in the accounts of the Rent Collector of Sundridge for the years 1410-1411 that he received 214  1/2 hens in rent and of these 66 1/2 were "Strethennen" or street hens. These he sold at 3d. each except 36 of them given to Roger Isley (Isley), Lord of the Manor of Sundridge.


A bequest of 1503 is a reminder of the three religious foundations in the town: "To the Chaplain of Sevenoaks 20s.. to the Chaplain of the Blessed Mary 3s. 4 d. and to the Chaplain of the Hospital of St. John the Baptist 3s. 4d." John Iselle (Isley) in his will of 1493 left" "Towards a vestment for Sevenoaks Church 40s. to pray for my father's soul he being buried in the South Chapel of that church and to the high Altar 3s.4d." In that same will he left " The Manor of Bradbourne and Tymberden with the mill and lands in Sevenoaks to my son Edward."


That same year (1540) in his capacity of Lord of the Manor of Otford, King Henry seems to have arranged a transaction with the Isley family whereby he acquired their holdings of Bradbourne in Sevenoaks and Tymberden in Otford in exchange for the grant of the manor of Brasted.


Kent was, in it's essence, inclined to favour the Reformers. Moreover it was nor at all feudal, very English, and most stubborn. Mary's proposed marriage with Philip of Spain was heartily disliked. Wyatt's rebellion in 1554 was centered on allington and Rochester but it had support from the Isley family of Brasted and the Weald.

ABOUT YALDHAM: John M. Lade, Sevenoaks, Kent. Pages 25-28 WYATTS REBELLION.

There was general rejoicing when Mary Tudor ascended the throne in 1553 following the troubled reign of Edward VI and the attempted usurpation by Lady Jane Grey. But this changed to dismay when she decided to  marry King Philip of Spain. While her mother Katherine of Aragon enjoyed affection and respect, Spain was a different matter: visiting Englishmen who refused to renounce their allegiance to Henry VIII had been persecuted as heretics by the inquisition. Sir Thomas Wyatt learned this at first hand when accompanied by his father on an embassy to Spain. Plots to prevent the marriage were stated in different parts of the country but only Wyatt's hatched.

The best history of the rebellion was written by John Proctor, the first master of Tonbridge school in 1554, the year it took place. Proctor writes that Wyatt, "forsaking his habitation in the country, went to London, of purpose to stirre the duke of Suffolk and his brthyren, with others in power in further countreis, whom he knew to be like affected to heresis"... He admits that Wyatt "determined to speake no worke of religion, but to make the colour of his commotion only to withstand straungers, and to avaunce libertie,"but he puts this down to duplicity. However it was, Wyatt had military experience. He had been knighted for his wartime services in France and written a military manuel.

In 1554 Sir Thomas Wyatt was about thirty three years old. On January 25th he posted a proclamation at Maidstone and elsewhere, a copy of which he also sent to the Sheriff, Sir Robert Southwell: "Forasmuch as it is now spred abrode and certainly pronounced by the lords chancelour and other of the counsell, of the Quenes determinate pleasure to marry w. a stranger: etc we therefore write unto you, because you be our neighbors, because you be our frandes, and because you be Englishmen, that you will joyne with us, as we will with you unto death in this behalfe, protecting unto you  before God, that no earthly cause could move us unto this enterpise, but this alone we seke no harm to the quene, but better counset and counselours, which also we would have forborne mall other thinges save onley in this. For herein lieth the helth and welth of us al. For trial herof and mantfest profe of this intended purpose; Lo now even at hand, Spaniardes by nowe already arived at Dover, at one passage to the numbre of an hundreth passing upwards to London, in companies of ten, foure and VI (sic) with harnes, harquebusses and morrians with match light, the formest company whereof be already at Rochester. We shall require you therefore to repaire to such places as the bearers hereof shal pronounce unto you, there to assemble and determine what may be best for ye advauncement of libertie and to bring with you such ayde as you may."

The Sheriff did not respond favourabale to Wyatt's call but among those who did was a Peckham cousin from Sundridge, Sir Henry Isley.

While Wyatt lay at Rochester with some 2,000 men, the History describes how the Sheriff -  with the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Abergavenny, and about 600 men - took up position at Malling in order to block the way from Tonbridge to Rochester. On Saturday evening (27th January) they received word that Sir Henry Isleie, the two Knevets (note - Anthony and William Knevet, later hanged at Sevenoaks for treason) and certaine other with 500 weldith (Wealden) mene were at Sevenoaks and would march early next morning to Wyatt at Rochester. The Sheriff and his men advanced to wrotham Heath. There they heard the sound of drums and moved on to "Barrow Grene" (Borourgh Green), where they sent out spies and laid in wait. They were, however, discovered: The rebels left the road and marched "as secretlye as they coulde by a bye way."  "The first sighte that the lorde Aburgaveny could have of them after they forsoke their purposed way, was as they ascended Wrotham hyl directlye over Yaldam, Maister Peckham's house, where they thinkinge to have great advauntage by winning of ye hyl, displaied their ensignes bravelye semynge to be in great ruffe (high spirits). But it was not longe after or theyre courage was abated, for the lord Aburgaveny, the Chyreffe, the gentlemen, with such other of the queenes true and faithfull subjectes as with great paynes taking to clyume the hyl, and to holde way and with the horsemen, overtoke the rebelles at a fielde called Blacksoll fields in the parish of Wrotham a mile distant from the very top of the hyl, where the lorde Aburgaveny, the Chyreffe, the gentlemen aforenamed, and other of the queenes true and faithful subjects handled them so hoot and so fiercely, after a final shot with the loge bowes by the traytours and a fierce bragge showed by some of the horsemen, they took their fighte away as fast as they coulde."  Coming up the farm drive at Yaldham the rebels entered the field called Wimble Patch where, turning east once more, they advanced across Cator Shots a half mile or more to the ridge from which they could see Wrotham, lying beyond Blacksole Field. Galloping to and fro on the slopes above were the horsemen, observing the arrival of the government force and riding back to give intelligence to the column.

Sir Henry Isley's force was defeated at the battle of Wrotham. The History does not explain what went wrong but detective work may provide the answer. Their Sheriff's soldiers certainly had cannon. Many years ago we picked up an odd two inch fragment of greenish-black stone in the fields below the house; later, more pieces of similar material turned up in the plough on Wimble Patch; finally, a round ball about the size of a cricket ball was unearthed in the garden of St. Martin's Cottage. I was advised at the Tower of London that the ball could have been intended for a Saker, a long-barrelled gun with a bore of diameter 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 inches. These guns moved on carriages.



Home Page | Contact Betty Shirley

copyright Betty Shirley, Shirley Association
All Rights Reserved