, , ,

Phineas Pett Married three times. His first marriage, to Ann Nichols, seems to have been entirely for love. In 1597, Phineas’ mother had just died and he was starting on his first supervisory shipbuilding work. It was then “first fell in love with my now wife”

During the continuance of this work I did not neglect my wooing, having taken such a liking of the maiden that I determined resolutely (by God’s help) either to match with her or never to marry any ; the which I with much difficulty (praised be God) at length achieved, all my own kindred being much against my matching with her, by reason of some controversies grown twixt Mr. Nicolas Simonson and them.

It isn’t clear what the connection is between Simonson (one of the owners of the ship Phineas was repairing) and Ann’s father, Richard (“a man of good report and honest stock”), but despite the objections of the Pett clan the couple were married in 1598. We don’t know how old Anne was when they married. Phineas was 28 and Ann would have her last child 22 years later, so probably in her late teens or early twenties.

She had ten full term pregnancies and eleven children, including one pair of twins, spaced fairly evenly two years apart. Eight of them survived into adulthood. She suffered the loss of three children and one adult son. In 1613, her secondborn, the ten year old Henry died. Phineas is uncharacterisitically detached, simply reporting the death between semi-colons, sharing the sentence with the death of a carver and the return of a sailor. In 1617 (“a very fatal and troublesome year”) they lost two more, a young Phineas aged two and Mary, the eldest of the twin girls born in April of that year at just six months old. She also outlived Joseph, who died in Ireland in his late teens, but we hear nothing of Ann’s reaction to these losses.

Ann appears regularly, although usually in passing, through the course of their marriage. Usually Phineas is reporting either moving house, moving his family to avoid various sicknesses, or to report on Ann’s health. We are told that she was sick during her preganancy with their first, John and when pregnant with Phineas) she had an illness which clearly greatly worried Phineas, but has a gloriously eccentric diagnosis.

my wife sickened of a surfeit of eating too many grapes, which had like to have cost her her life

Whether this is an example of Early Modern medical bluster, or Phineas’ view of the consequence of his wife’s vice is unclear. The pregnancy with the twins was, inevitably also difficult. A month before they were born, in March 1617

she being so big with child that I was forced to carry her by coach and that very leisurely for that she was with child with two twins

At the end of 1617, shortly after losing Mary and young Phineas, Ann was again very ill.

My dear loving wife sickened at Chatham the 29th December, and hardly escaped with life, yet it pleased God she did recover

She was, however to live for another ten years (and to deliver two more healthy children), before in 1627

The 14th February, being Wednesday and St. Valentine’s Day, my dear wife Ann departed this life in the morning, and was buried the Friday after in Chatham Church in the evening, leaving behind her a disconsolate husband and sad family. Not long after, I being at London, my only sister then living, Mary Cooper, departed this life the fifth of March, for the very grief of the loss of my dear wife.

Again we don’t know how old she was when she died, but it was 29 years after her marriage, and eight years after her last recorded birth so probably her late forties or early fifties. Although all we have of Ann are expressions of love at their engagement, the grief of Phineas and his family at her death and sporadic terms of endearment and worry in between, not withstanding his rapid remarriage, it does feel like a loving as well as long marriage

Whilst his marriage to Ann was one of love, his second marriage, to Susan Yardley was almost certainly a practical arrangement. Ann had been dead only five months when Phineas married Susan. Phineas and Ann’s first son, John, had married Katherine Yardley in 1625. John had then died at sea (a not uncommon fate for the Pett men) leaving Katherine as a pregnant widow. Susan was Katherine’s mother, i.e. he married his late son’s mother-in-law. I’m very curious how common practice this was. Was it a customary expedient, or would it have been considered odd? Susan would have been a mature woman, probably about Ann’s age- already a mother to a grown up daughter and a grandmother and there were no children from this second marriage. Ann left several children, the youngest only seven and Susan was a family friend who could raise the remainder of Ann’s children, presumably also looking after Katherine (whose son, Phineas, lived to be one of the ubiquitous Pett shipbuilders of his generation).

Phineas marriage with Susan lasted ten years, during which time she is hardly mentioned in the autobiography, although admittedly by this point in the book each year was given less attention and the narrative was far less personal than earlier. After an illness of some weeks, on 21st July 1637

She fell into a sweet sleep and so like [a] lamb quietly departed this life

Whilst it is easy to view Ann’s marriage as one of love and Susan’s as one of comfortable convenience, Phineas’ third and final marriage is much harder to fathom out. Again, he married very soon after his bereavement in January 1638. However the first mention of her is in July, when he describes her, almost as an aside, as his “now wife”. Even more strangely, he calls her “Bylande” in this first reference, when it is clear later on that her Christian name was Mildred and her father’s name Etherington. The autobiography’s editors suggest that she may have been another widow and Bylande may have been her previous husband’s name, but this would seem, even for the sometimes bewildering Phineas, an odd way to introduce her.

Sadly, the marriage was a brief one. On September 8th his “dear wife sickened! Taken with a violent fever, being then great with child” and on the 19th “she departed this life in a most Christian manner”.

I’m rather intrigued by Mildred. Who was she and how did this marriage come about? She may or may not have been another widow, but she was pregnant when she died, so clearly much younger than Phineas, who was 68 in 1638. Ann’s children would have been in less need of a stepmother by this time (the youngest, Christopher, would have been 18). Was she the young object of fancy for an aging, but by this time quite wealthy and prominent and clearly still sexually potent man? We can only speculate, but she was Phineas last wife, although he lived for another nine years.

Both Ann and Phineas’ remaining daughters survived to adulthood and both may have married men related to their father’s trade. Ann, their eldest daughter may have been the Mrs. Ackworth, who Pepys describes in 1661 as a “very proper, lovely woman” married to the “knave” William Ackworth, but there is some confusion about this. The surviving twin, Martha, married Master Carpenter and Phineas’ erstwhile apprentice John Hodierene (or Odierene) when she was twenty. We don’t know of their eventual fate.

In Part Three, after a quick survey of other women who make fleeting appearances in Phineas’ life along with some final thoughts.


One quick erratum from my previous post. It seems that Phineas was preceded by twin sisters Jane and Suzannah, who both died, presumably as infants in 1567. I’ve edited the post to reflect this.