Researching archaic royal English appointments: John Roane: Yeoman of the Harriers to Charles I

This post is the last in the series of posts about the group of 17th Century Roanes who held various English royal court appointments. As I mentioned in the previous post about Thomas Roane, Jr., it has been an interesting experiencing connecting with ancestors through their careers in the English court. There’s been an unexpected wealth of publicly available digital versions of ancient documents to allow that journey to happen.

Things don’t get any more English than hunting. It’s certainly is (or rather was, as it’s now been banned) iconically British and aristocratic. Just look at all those paintings by Turner, Gainsborough and other luminaries which have depicted a throng of hounds chasing some hapless creature through hedge, thicket and across the fields. This was grand stuff. It was also the preserve of the very rich, the exceedingly privileged…and, of course, royalty. To the English aristocratic mind, few things said manliness more than a combination of guns, hounds and prey.

An English harrier
An English harrier

And this is where John Roane, Yeoman to the Harriers comes in. So what is a harrier? This royal warrant granted him the right “to take up and carry away hounds, greyhounds, dogs, guns, bows etc., destructive to his Majesty’s game.” In other words, a hunting hound. However, in this context, it meant hunting dogs in general.

Charles I, like many a monarch before and after him, had a passion for hunting. Which meant that John would have been kept fairly busy. John would have also been in close company with the king during such hunts. It was a proximity and closeness to the king which would place John Roane in some sticky situations and rather hot water later on. And leave a curious but lasting legacy, the effect of which can be seen to the present day.

St Alfege church, Greenwich, London, England
St Alfege church, Greenwich, London, England – click for larger image

John Roan was born in about 1602 in a house known as the Mansion House. The property adjoined the south side of St Alfege’s churchyard, in East Greenwich, his family church. The house would later become the site of the Mitre Tavern.

Upon his father’s death, he inherited substantial wealth and a number of rich properties. John, like his father and younger brother Robert  Roane (the father of Charles “The Immigrant” Roane of Virginia), probably began  his career of royal service in the King’s Palace of Placentia in Greenwich. Later he bought and sold properties, adding to the portfolio of real estate inherited from his father.

On Dec 19 1640 he was awarded the Warrant of succession to the post of Yeoman of his Majesty’s Harriers. The Patent warranted for John’s appointment as Yeoman of His Majesty’s Harriers by Thomas Potts (also known as Pott), Master of His Majesty’s Privy Harriers.

John also seems to have held other Royal posts connected to hunting, including Yeoman of his Majesty’s Greyhounds and according to another source, Yeoman Pricker to his Majesty, a kind of officer of the hunt.

You can read more about the art of 17th Century Harriers and hunting with this free eBook:   Hare-hunting and Harriers: With Notices of Beagles and Basset Hounds. Henry Anderson Bryden G. Richards, 1903

The English Civil War

Upon the advent of civil war between the King and Parliament, John offered his services to the King. This demonstrates the nature of the bond between the two men.  By August, the king appointed him as a Lieutenant in the royal regiment then being raised in Staffordshire by Lord William Paget.  John was arrested in Walsall, attempting to recruit men for the King, and was sent as a prisoner to Northampton jail. This was not without a sense of irony for Northampton was one of the Roane family’s ancient seats. So there he was right in the thick of things from the earliest days of unrest. He was examined there on 19 September 1642 where he answered to the charges set against him: That he was employed by Lieutenant-Colonel D’Ewes in a regiment assigned by Lord Paget to Colonel Bolls with a commission under the King’s own hand to raise volunteers, which he “showed to the Mayor of Walsall, who refused to let him beat up his drum and apprehended him.”

It was noted that John complained of having been “stripped and left destitute by the magistrates”.

The Earl of Essex ordered him to be dispatched to London, where he was to “remain in safe custody.” John was a prisoner in London for the remainder of 1642; “being stripped of all he had and in great necessity and want, ready to starve in prison.” I don’t doubt it. Imprisonment in 17th Century London was a grim business.

John sent for his brother Robert, a resident of Westminster at the time, to aid him. And, depending upon the close filial ties which had always bound the family together, he was much surprised when Robert refused to come anywhere near him.  Close to despair, John sent a message to a friend, Richard Wakeman, who “immediately came to him and relieved his wants both for money and clothes”.

Johns will

John determined that if his brother would not help him in life, then he would not benefit by his death, and he changed his will. In his original will John had left the bulk of his property to Robert.  John’s new will, dated 19 March 1643, was written when he was probably still in prison.  I actually have a copy of the will. Sadly, it’s difficult for me to decipher as it is written in that style of 17th Century script/cursive writing which I find nearly impossible to read.

After making provision for his wife, Elizabeth, during her lifetime, he blotted out all relatives in favour of Wakeman , his wife and their children, Elizabeth and Mary, for whom he also made provision during their lifetimes. The blotting out of more than one name suggests that more family members, in addition to Robert, also did not come to John’s aide. I have found no information about why his kinsmen refused to come to his aide. I have found no records, mention or hints of any Roanes supporting the Parliamentarian side during the civil war. That aside, there can only be conjecture.

John Roane's plaque at St  Alfege church plaque
John Roane’s plaque at St Alfege church – click for larger image

John was released from imprisonment after about a year’s interment but his health was broken and he had died by 4 March 1645, the date on which his will was proved. He was buried in the family vault at St Alfege’s Church Greenwich. For trivia buffs, this is the same church where the Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis is buried as well as the English-born explorer of Canada, Henry Kelsey.

The John Roan(e) School

The other provision of John Roan’s second will was the establishment of a school to educate boys of poor families from East Greenwich, up to the age of 15, “to bring upp soe many poore towne-born children of East Greenwich aforesaid at schoole that is to reading, writing and cyphering, and each of them fortie shillings per annum towards their clothing until each of them shall accomplish the age of fifteene yeares… And my will and mind is that the said poor children shall wear on their upper garment the cognisance or crest of me, John Roan.”

He gave his house for this endeavour, which is still in use to this day as he had intended.

John Roan's house in Greenwich, London; site of the original John Roan School
John Roan’s house in Greenwich, London; site of the original John Roan School –          click for larger image
John Roan's crest
John Roan’s crest

A crest with three stags facing to left with right foreleg raised, and stars on a dark green background or more properly ‘three bucks or stags trippant  proper with a crest, a buck’s head proper holding in its mouth an oak branch vert, acorn.”

It was not until 1677, after the death of his wife, that the founding of the school proceeded. The school is located quite close to Roan Street, Greenwich, London where John had owned land and a number of properties, the rents of which would be used to fund the school.

The Charities Commissioners agreed in 1677 that funds from the Roan Estate (including the leasing of property) would be used to maintain the new School and that the Vicar, the Churchwardens and the Overseers of the poor of Saint Alfege, Greenwich as the Trustees of John Roan’s will were to manage the Estate. They formed part of the Feoffees of the Roan Charity who were later renamed the Governors of the Roan Schools Foundation.  However it was not until 1686 that the first schoolmaster was appointed and the John Roan School officially opened.

Known as “Mr. Roan’s Charity”, its full name was the ‘Greycoat School of the Foundation of John Roan.  This first school, situated near the corner of King William Walk and Romney Road, Greenwich, educated some 16 boys, rising to 20 over the next century. During all this time the boys wore grey cloaks, round hats, leather knee breeches and buckle shoes, (they wore Roan’s crest in the form of an oval badge. This was in copper and depicted a stag’s head facing to the left with a leafy twig in its mouth). They must have been well know as they walked with their teacher to St Alfege’s Church every Sunday. The same badge is still in use at the school to this day.

During the 18th century revenues of the Roan Estate rose dramatically. In the thirty years after 1775, the rentals trebled. By 1814, the revenue of the Roan estate enabled it to educate and clothe a hundred boys. The old school became part of Greenwich Hospital, and new premises were built on land behind St Alfege’s. After much discussion it was further decided to establish the first John Roan School for girls. By 1853 some 630 boys and girls were on roll, while the Education Acts of the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries saw a huge expansion in education facilitating the school’s move to Maze Hill in 1928.

The John Roan Foundation Trust still flourishes and supports the school in a number of ways from providing extra resources to the annual “Roan Exhibition Scholarship” which each year gives financial support for the two students with the best A-level results. Archives of the school’s history are kept and Founders Day celebrated annually.

You can read more about the Roan School here:

I’d recommend this part of Greenwich for Roane descendants to explore. Little survives of the Roane family holdings in England. This really is one of the few ways to directly connect with them – and it’s both a moving and powerful one at that.

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