George Clerke, the last Lord of Watford, died in 1689 and left a detailed will. One of the few bequests not of Watford was: ‘And I give unto my Goddaughter Barbara Clarke … the perpetual right of Patronage of the church of Gildsborough in the aforesaid county of Northampton towards her person for wch I paid her father £200’.
Barbara Clarke was a sister of Sir Robert Clerke, who was bequeathed the large part of the Clerke estates in Watford parish, including the manor. Both were children of Robert Clerke, George Clerke’s brother.
So what was the connection that gave the Clerkes of Watford the Patronage of Guilsborough church?
The great Northamptonshire historian, John Bridges, provides plenty of information. He records that the manor of Guilsborough was long held of the Honor of Peverel. About 1459 the manor was enfeoffed to William Breton, doctor in divinity and John Fox, clerk, who conveyed the manor to Thomas Osborn, Esq. A certain Thomas Osborn also held and eventually sold lands in Watford, which were named ‘Osbornes’.
The manor was passed from Thomas Osborn, to his brother, Richard, to Thomas, Richard’s son and to his son, another Thomas. He sold the manor for £283 to Thomas Andrewes in 1553, who was found to hold it in capite of the king, for knight’s service. His son, also Thomas, conveyed the manor to William Belchier. William’s grandson of the same name, in 1627, conveyed the Manor of Guilsborough to ‘Sergeant Clerke of Watford’. This was Sir George Clerke, who about the same time began his buying spree of Watford manors and lands with the purchase of the Burneby manor.
Almost certainly, the right of presentation to the church was acquired by Sir George Clerke when he bought Guilsborough manor. Bridges notes: ‘about the year 1640, the right of presentation was in Mr Clarke.’ Evidently, the Clerkes continued to hold the advowson (or patronage, the right to present a member of the clergy to a vacant benefice) through the demise of Sir George to his son, George Clerke Esq, and eventually to his niece, Barbara. The advowson remained in Clerke hands, even though the manor was sold, probably sometime late in the 1660s to 1670s.
The story does not end there. As noted in The Watford Knight’s Fee, Sir Robert Clerke had been obliged to mortgage some of his lands and as a consequence, they fell into the hands of the Breton family of Norton. In a final note on Guilsborough, John Bridges writes: ‘The right of presenting to the vicarage is in dispute between Mrs Breton of Norton and Mr Garey incumbent of the parish’. Bridges’ use of the present tense is consistent with the Breton story in Watford, which was current when Bridges wrote his History around 1720, three hundred years ago.