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Thomas Bunbury (1606-1668) – Oxford Links

The Bunburys of Lisnavagh descend from Thomas Bunbury, son of Sir Henry Bunbury (1565-1634) of Stanney Hall, Cheshire, and grandson of Thomas Bunbury (d. 1601), who was involved with Lismore Castle in 1585. Thomas’s mother Lady Martha (née Norris) was Sir Henry’s second wife. In 1605, a year before Thomas’s birth, his great-uncle, Sir William Stanley was implicated in the Guy Fawkes Plot. His father’s first cousin Sir Arthur Aston was a renowned Catholic mercenary in the early 17th century. Thomas was father to, amongst others, Benjamin Bunbury of Killerig, Tobinstown and Lisnavagh.


Memorial to Thomas Bunbury in Stoke (Stoak) Church

Margaret Wilcocks (1595-1632)


Born in May 1606, Thomas Bunbury appears to have been just fourteen years old when he was married, on 2 May 1620, to Margaret Wilcocks, daughter of William Wilcocks (sometimes Wilcox) of The Oakes in the county of Salop (Shropshire), gent. [1]  She bore a son and four daughters before her death in October 1632 at the age of 37. I am unsure what became of these early children. [2]

A wooden tablet, emblazoned, in Stoke Church near Stanney records:

“Here lyeth the body of Thomas Bunbury, Gent, fourth son of Sir Henry Bunbury of Stanney, Knt. He first married Margaret, sole dau of Wm Wilcocks, of the Oakes, in the county of Salop, Gent; and had issue Martha, Henry, Elizabeth, and Anne. She died [October] 1632, aged 37.’


Eleanor Birkenhead


After Margaret’s death, Thomas Bunbury was married secondly in early 1634 to Eleanor Birkenhead, or Birkhead. Born on 29 November 1605, three weeks after the Gunpowder Plot, she was the fifth daughter of Henry Birkenhead of Huxley and Backford, whose wife was also a Bunbury.

Henry Birkenhead, Eleanor’s father, served as a sequestrator and non-Cestrian during the Commonwealth, was ‘a lawyer in the Chester Exchequer and staunch Parliamentarian in 1642,’ lending further credence to the idea that this branch of the Bunbury family were more partial to Cromwell than the House of Stuart. [3]  He was also presumably father or at least a very close relative to the Henry Birkenhead or Birkhead (1617-1697), known as the Founder of the Oxford Chair of Poetry.

Eleanor’s sister Bridget Birkenhead married John Chetwode who was, I believe, a pal of Jonathan Swift, while another sister Mary Birkenhead married William Downes of Shrigley and Worth.

Were the Bunburys or Birkenhead friendly with Master King, a kinsman of the Earls of Kingston and a much-loved friend of John Milton who was drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of Wales, prompting the poet to wrote his famous lament, ‘Lycidas – A Lament for a friend drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish Seas, 1637’.


Oxford Connections

In 1649, Thomas Bunbury’s cousin, Sir Arthur Aston, was commander of the Royalist garrison at Drogheda when Oliver Cromwell’s forces laid siege to the Irish port. Aston was clubbed to death with his own wooden leg,


Given the Birkhead link to Oxford, it should be noted that a Thomas Bunbury, D.D., of Balliol College, Oxford, succeeded Dr Joseph Denison in the vicarage of St. Mary’s Church in Reading. He was driven out of Reading by the Presbyterians, when that town came under their possession, and fled to Oxford for protection. He was given a license under the public seal of the university to preach the word of God throughout England.

Into the mix here we must note the Bunbury’s Catholic cousin Sir Arthur Aston who, in 1631, was commissioned by Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden to raise an English regiment; they fought, without distinction, in the secondary theatres of Germany. Sir Thomas Aston, Sir Arthur’s grandfather, was a brother-in-law to the Thomas Bunbury who was connected to Lismore Castle. Sir Arthur, who was connected to the Earl of Ormonde, commanded a regiment for King Charles during the Second Bishops’ War but his Catholicism made people uneasy. As commander of Reading, Sir Arthur’s dictatorial behaviour made him unpopular and he continued to irk people when he was made Governor of Oxford in late 1643; he lost a leg falling from a horse at Horspath in September 1644 and was relieved as governor. His removal from Oxford was the cause of ‘great rejoicing of the soldiers and others in Oxford, having expressed himself very cruel and imperious while he executed that office.’

Is it relevant that Thomas Bunbury, DD, was connected to both Reading and Oxford?

Sir Arthur went on to become Governor of Drogheda in Ireland where he fought for the Confederacy; he reluctantly agreed to a surrender of the port in September 1649, only to have his head horribly smashed in with his own wooden leg by Parliamentarian soldiers convinced it was full of gold. Sir Thomas Aston (1600-1645), a younger brother of the younger Sir Arthur, was an outspoken Royalist who suffered defeat at the hands of Sir William Brereton in Middlewich.


Irish Connections – Thomas Bunbury’s Siblings


When King Charles I was executed on 30 January 1649, one of the many witnesses was James Ussher, the Primate and Archbishop of Armagh, who was such a close friend of John Richardson and his wife Elizabeth (née Bunbury), Thomas’s half-sister.

While Thomas’s half-brother Henry Benjamin Bunbury languished in prison and had his house burned for supporting Charles I, other Bunburys appear to have batted for Cromwell’s Republic, such as John Bunbury who was granted Ballyseskin Castle in County Wexford in return for his services as a Colonel in Cromwell’s army. In January 2014 the Carlow historian Michael Purcell emailed me an extract of a land settlement indenture from 1652 which read:

“… lands on the south of the river Burren adjoining the town of Catherlough & nominated my wellbeloved friends and attorney Benjamin Bumbury and Thomas Bumbury with Copal Norris and heirs or assignees for ever to enter and take possession of all such lands, tentenments, hereditaments with appurtenances.”

I am simply not knowledgeable enough on 17th century politics to know what any of this means. Who was this ‘wellbeloved’ attorney Thomas Bumbury who was acquiring land in Carlow according to a 1652 indenture? Was he the future Sir Thomas Bunbury? And who is this Benjamin Bunbury? An as yet unidentified brother of Thomas? [Born in 1642, the future Benjamin Bunbury of Killerig would have been ten years old at the time of the deed so he hardly fits the bill? His brother Thomas Bunbury (of Virginia) would have been eighteen but still surely too young to be an attorney.] It’s a famously confusing era to make sense of.

I know not who Copal Norris was, or even what ‘Copal’ means. It may simply have been his given name, or was it an abbreviation of ‘Episcopal’, suggesting someone was acting on behalf of a bishop? [The Bishop of Ossory was based in Kilkenny, the Ormonde stronghold.] The area referred to ‘south of the River Burren’ is assumed to have been around Mortarstown where Borlum (also Roseville House), the Otterholt and the Dolmen Hotel now stand along the old Carlow-Kilkenny road. The family continued to own lands in Mortarstown into the 1890s.

The Norris connection is quite possibly relevant because Benjamin’s grandmother, Lady Martha Bunbury, wife of Sir Henry, was born into an influential Catholic family from Liverpool called Norris, or Norreys as it is sometimes spelled. And bear in mind that the Bunburys were also closely related to Sir William Stanley, among the most infamous English Catholics of them all during Queen Elizabeth’s reign!

Another document emerged in November 2014 suggesting that brothers George and Henry Bumbry purchased land in the Carlow-Wicklow area from John Richmond, an officer in Cromwell’s Parliamentarian Army in the 1650s. Was this the same George Bunbury? Was there Henry another brother we have not yet registered? Or was this some other branch, tied in with Colonel John Bunbury of Wexford?

One should also bear in mind a ‘Mr Bomberry’ who was named alongside Lieutenant Colonel Stevens, a Mr Cooper and a Mrs Cottle as people who left the lands of James Delahyde at the beginning of the 1641 rebellion and went to England. This was in the testimony of Morris Neale of [New] Ross, sworn before Thomas Dowse and William Woodward in 1653.[4]

I am unsure who wrote these lines originally but they throw my traditional understanding of our family history a little. This suggested that the Bumbury [sic] family were not just in Carlow a decade before I previously thought, but also that they acquired their initial landholdings through the despised Cromwellian land settlement, or the 1652 Act for the Settlement of Ireland. How did Benjamin and Thomas connect to Colonel John Bunburywho also profited from the Cromwellian settlement.

Clearly these Bunburys were of a different political persuasion to – is it their half-brother? – Henry Benjamin Bunbury with his burning mansion in Cheshire … and, if so, also to their grandmother Norris’s Catholic relatives. It happens. That’s what civil wars are about. Perhaps someday, further clues will spill into the plot enabling us to make sense of these muddied waters. [5]

Two more Bunburys, possibly Benjamin’s brothers, who moved to Ireland at this point were William Bunbury who lived at Moyle, Co. Carlow, and John Bunbury (King’s Inn, 18 May 1698) who lived at Mortarstown but these two need to be examined further. Lower Mortarstown adjoined Cloghna and was close to the old Butler / Carew castle at Cloughgrenan, just outside Carlow on the banks of the Barrow. Mortarstown had belonged to the Bradston family until Francis Bradstone was attainted by James II’s Irish Parliament. It later passed to Col. Kane Bunbury.

Children Of Thomas & Eleanor Bunbury

According to that marble monument at Stoke Church in Bunbury, Thomas ‘died the 9th day Dec. anno 1668, aged 63 years, and she [Eleanor] died the 20 of Dec 1675, aged 70 years.’ The monument states that they had ‘… eleven children, including at least four sons and six daughters, whereof six died in their minority. Thomas, Dulcibella, Joseph, Benjamin and Diana only survived him.’

Their first son Thomas Bunbury was born on 21 October 1634 and subsequently made his career as a tobacco baron in Virginia where he became ancestor to the Bumbreys, one of the oldest black families in the United States today.

In 1636, Eleanor produced triplets, christened George, Susan and Alice, although all three died soon after birth. [6]  Next was John Bunbury born 1637 who also died shortly after birth.

Their eldest surviving daughter, Dulcibella Bunbury, was born in 1638 and died aged 48 on 5 July 1686. Her will names a large number of relations and friends, was dated 13 June 1686 and was proved at Chester by her sister Diana, the widow of Richard Bunbury, on 28 August following. In her will, she desired to be buried ‘at Stoke in the chancell as nigh to my father as possible. I cann & doe hereby humbly request Sir Henry Bunbury that he be pleased to let me lye there & not doubting that he will grant my desire herein I leave unto my cozen [first cousin twice removed] Henry Bunbury his sonn and heire one eleven shillings piece of old gold’. Dulcibella left her signet ring to her brother Benjamin, later of Killerrig. [7]

Benjamin Bunbury, later of Killerig, ancestor of the Bunbury family in Ireland, was born in 1642 and was the elder twin of Joseph Bunbury. Ormerod records that the twins were christened / baptised at Stanney in Cheshire on 13 September 1642. Joseph also spent time in Ireland, marrying Hannah Desmineers (or  Desminiere)  of Dublin in 1666, but later returned to England. [8]

The youngest child, Diana, was born on 23 September 1644 and married her first cousin Richard Bunbury. [9] Elsewhere, she is said to have settled in Ireland and married a Mr Berib, Esq, of Co. Carlow. And yet I believe she was also buried in Stoke Church.





1646 (12 Aug): Archbishop Giovanni Rinuccini, papal nuncio to the Irish Confederate Catholics, condemns their adherence to Ormond’s peace terms for failing to fully recognise Catholicism.

1649 (Aug): Oliver Cromwell arrives in Dublin with his New Model Army (20,000 men), a huge artillery train and a large navy. Drogheda and Wexford fall. Jones defeats Ormond at Rathmines, ending royalist hopes of taking Dublin. Kilkenny also falls in August.

1650 (30 July): Edward Parry, Church of Ireland Bishop of Killaloe, dies in Dublin from the plague.

1650: Archbishop Ussher of Armagh, who preached in Lincolns Inn, “carefully trolled the Bible totting up the lifespans of everyone descended from Adam and Eve”, as Neil McGregor puts it in “A History of the World in 100 Objects”. He then combined that with other data to reach his conclusion that the world began at night for on Sunday 23rd of October 4004 BC! And everybody believed him for ages!

1652 (12 Aug): ‘Act for the Settling of Ireland’ allows for the transplantation to Clare or Connacht of proprietors whose land is confiscated by Cromwell to meet promises to adventurers and soldiers; also known as the “To Hell or Connacht” Act.


[1] Ormerod’s History of Cheshire (now available on CD) gives Margaret Wilcocks as the first wife of Thomas Bunbury.

[2] Reference from the Monuments in Stoke Church courtesy of the late Peter Bunbury.

[3] Crisis & Order in English Towns, 1500-1700 (Routledge, 2013), by Peter Clark & Paul Stack, p. 228. A book called ‘Henry Birkhead, Founder of the Oxford Chair of Poetry: Poetry and the Redemption of History’ (Studies in British Literature) by Joan H. Pittock on Amazon may explain more.

[4] The Examination of Morris Neale of Ross, 1641 Depositions, MS 819, fols 286r-286v.

[5] A digital manuscript detailing to whom lands were disposed in 1641 can be found here. John Ryan’s 1833 The History And Antiquities of The County Of Carlow. CHAPTER XXI provides a detailed picture of the land ownership and other matters in the county from 1605 – 1625. Thanks to Paul Horan.

[6] Their deaths are recorded in to Sir Henry Noel Bunbury’s pedigree.

[7] There is a memorial in Stoke Church, Cheshire which reads:- ‘Here lyeth the body of Dulcibella Bunbury eldest daughter to Thomas Bunbury of Stanney, Gent by Eleanor his second wife who was fifth daughter to Henry Berkenhead of Backford Esq: She died the 5th July MDCLXXXVI (1686) aged XLVIII years (48)’.

[8] A pedigree of the Desminieres family was compiled by W. B. Wright, published in The Irish Builder Vol. 29 (1887), pp. 71, 339. See also British Library MS. 3,682; “Researching Huguenot Settlers in Ireland” by Vivien Costello, The BYU Family Historian, Vol. 6 (Fall 2007) p. 83-163.

[9] Diana Bunbury is also buried in Stoke Church.