Rev. John Spendlove (1618-1669)

The signature of Rev. Spendlove taken from the baptism register in 1663 at St Mary the Virgin, Martham.

John Spendlove was the vicar at St Mary the Virgin, Martham from 1642 to 1669. He was also known as Johanos or Johannes spelling variations in the 17th century.

John was born in about 1618 at Blofield. His mother was Elizabeth, nee Suckling and his father was also called John (1586-1666) and he was a priest and deacon at Norwich Cathedral.  John junior went to the Norwich School, which is set in The Close of Norwich Cathedral and is one of the oldest independent schools in the Country.  When he was 16 he went to Caius College, Cambridge having already completed three years study at the Norwich School.  He became a B.A. in 1637/38 and an M.A. in 1641 and was ordained as a deacon at Peterborough in the same year.  John was appointed by the Dean & Chapter of Norwich Cathedral as vicar at Martham in 1642.

He married Elizabeth Godsalue on 1st August 1643  at Saint Mary-in-the-Marsh, Norwich which was right in the heart of Norwich in Cathedral Close walled off from the city and entered by guarded gates. John and Elizabeth went on the have four children who were all born and baptised at Martham between 1644 and 1649.

Their first born in 1644 was a daughter called Elizabeth and she died when she was only 10 years old and was buried in St Mary’s graveyard in an unknown plot.  Their first son was named after his father as John and was born in about 1646.  Their second son, Christopher, sadly only lived for about a week in February 1647 and was buried in an unknown grave at St Mary’s. Their fourth child faired no better; called Lionel he only lived for a short while in 1649 and again is buried in an unmarked grave at St Mary’s.   Their mother also died in Martham and was buried on 14th July 1654 in an unknown grave at St Mary’s.  

He married for a second time on 11th September 1655 to another lady called Elizabeth, her full name being Elizabeth Harwicke. All was well until 1658/59 when the congregation witnessed a dark period for its vicar. John’s second wife had given birth to two children: Ann in 1656 and Samuel in 1658 but both of them died in February & January 1658.  Then to make matters worse Elizabeth herself died and was buried in St Mary’s graveyard on 30th November 1659. Again, as with all of these early burials, there is no record of her grave.
John appears to have had a simple solution to remembering his wives name because in 1660 he again married an Elizabeth, this time  Elizabeth Walker of whom I can find no other information.  John himself died in Martham on 25th August 1669 whilst still acting as the vicar

John lived through turbulent times;  the bloody civil wars of 1642–51, and the beheading of King Charles I in 1649 followed by the Commonwealth period which had a dramatic effect on the clergy and Church life. The plague catastrophically swept through London in 1665 and Norwich in 1666.  And the disastrous Great Fire of London in 1666.

We have seen above that life expectancy was precarious and during this period it was a good deal shorter than in the present day. The child mortality rate was very high and childbirth was a dangerous and potentially fatal event for the mother, too: if the trauma of birth didn’t kill her, infection could days later. Studies have estimated that between 10 and 25 women out of 1,000 perished as a result of childbirth in the 17th century.

Sources: Appointment information courtesy of the: Clergy of the Church of England Database at

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