William Marche & Family, French Huguenots

Few of my immigrant ancestors appear to have fled their homeland because of an oppressive ruler. Instead, most seemed to come for a better economic life. One of the exceptions was William Marche, a French Huguenot who fled to England in the 1500’s.

First, a short very history of the Huguenots:

For centuries, France was dominated by one official religion, that of Roman Catholicism. However, by the 1530’s, the writings of John Calvin, an influential French theologian,  were seeping into French society. Calvin, himself, fled to Switzerland to escape persecution by French authorities.

As Huguenots vocally criticized the Roman Catholic Church for both its doctrine and rituals, conflicts with church and government authorities grew more and more frequent. For Protestants in France, most of the 16th century was one fraught with fear. Religious tension increased as uprisings became violent.

The peak of this violence was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 23-24 August 1572 when French Calvinists were purposely targeted for assassination. Five days earlier, King Charles IX’s sister, Margaret, married Protestant Henry III of Navarre (who later became King Henry IV of France.) Many prominent Huguenots were in Paris for the wedding and it is believed that King Charles IX’s mother, Catherine of Medici, was the force behind the assassinations.

St. Bartholomew Day Massacre, 1572
by Francois Dubois, Wikipedia

The king himself ordered the killing of several Huguenot leaders and then mobs of Catholics took to the streets to murder Protestants. The massacre actually lasted several weeks and spread from Paris to other cities and then to the countryside. Estimates of the number of Huguenots killed during this one episode range from 5,000 to 30,000.

The Marche Family:

My 11x great grandfather, William Marche,  was an early French Calvinist. He was likely born  in the 1540’s or 1550’s in the central or southern region of France, as these areas were home to most French Calvinists. His father is thought to be John Marche.

There are no records to document the departure of the Marche family from France or its arrival in England, but the Huguenot population of France peaked at about two million by 1562 when many began to flee to other countries such as England. It seems probable that the family left France during this tumultuous decade -but the route it took is unknown. Sherford is located slightly east of Plymouth, England.

One thing is certain though. Whatever sufferings the Marche family or their friends and neighbors might have gone through, one thing is certain. They had decided to leave France at least a few years before the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. This is one of the scarce facts known about the family’s move. John Marche appears in the court records of Stokenham in September 1569. While the Marches were now living in a country which had declared itself independent of Rome in 1534 and thus under the Church of England, it seems that John Marche wasn’t much of a royalist either, whether they be French or British, as he  was charged with diverting water from the mill belonging to the lord of the manor.

Little else is known about John. With a lack of records for that time period, it is assumed that this John was the patriarch of the Marche family that had established itself in Devonshire.

By 1 Jan 1580/81, William, too, was mentioned in the manor court rolls so he had come of age by that time.

“William Marche Sen.” was brought before the manor court of Stokenham on 9 October 1610 for having “stopped the church path leading from the village of Chillingtun to the parish church of Stokenham” and he was charged yet again on 15 January 1610-11 as he who “doth deny the water to be turned out of a certain ‘drange’ (probably “drainage.”)

Chillington is a village about three miles southeast of Sherford; it is about one mile from Chillington to Stokenham.

Two mentions in the court rolls of the manor don’t necessarily define one’s personality. In the case of William, though, it may indicate that he might have been a bit feisty. These infractions were recorded during the last years of his life and I do wonder what his purpose was in blocking the road to the parish church. Add to these facts the charge that John Marche, his presumed father, was diverting water from the mill of the manor lord back in 1569, and it may be an indication that the Marche family never fully integrated into its new English home.

It appears that the William Marches of 1610 and 1611 are one and the same as William Marche, who left a will dated 29 April 1612 and whose estate inventory was completed by 11 February 1613/14. His wife is unknown and likely predeceased him as he named his daughter-in-law Joane Marche, widow of his deceased son Richard, as executrix of his estate.

William Marche’s will named the following children:

1. Richard, died before 29 April 1612
2. George, living 21 May 1616
3. Joane, eldest daughter who married before 29 April 1612 to Mr. Hinde.
4. Grace, married before 29 April 1612 to Mr. Neale.
5. Jane, married before 29 April 1612 to Gergory Bickforde of nearby Rattery, Devonshire.
6. Prudence, married before 29 April 1612 to Mr. Jackson.
7. Sarah, married before 29 April 1612 to Mr. Pounde

Richard and Joane Marche, executrix of William Marche’s will,  were parents of one son and six daughters named in their mother’s will, one of whom is my ancestress.

Children of Richard and Joane named in her will dated 21 May 1616 were:

1. William, who died about May or June 1617 without heirs.
2. Alice, eldest daughter, unmarried when her sister, Elizabeth, wrote her own will about 1616/17.
3. Elizabeth, died unmarried before 12 May 1619, when her estate inventory was taken.
4. Eulalia, my ancestress, married Henry Burt of Harberton, Devonshire on 28 Dec 1619 at Dean Prior.
5. Amias, living and unmarried on 13 November 1619, when her uncle, Rev.  Henry Martyn, with whom she lived, named her in his will.
6. Jane, living when her sister Elizabeth wrote her will about 1616/17.
7. Johane, living when her sister Elizabeth wrote her will about 1616/17.

Most of the details of the Marche family lives in England are found in  “Genealogical Research in England, Burt-March,” George Skelton Terry, New England Historic Genealogical Register, 86:247-252 published in July 1932.

The Burt family was prosperous. Henry Burt’s father, Henry Burt Sr., was a clothier and landowner. Henry Sr. died in 1617 and Henry Jr. was not the eldest son. Perhaps Henry and Eulalia’s economic circumstances were not as solid as those of his father. Perhaps primogeniture left him with little, as his brother John inherited the bulk of his father’s estate. Perhaps the Burt family’s religious beliefs differed somewhat from the Church of England doctrine. There are many “perhaps” and no answers as to why Henry, Eulalia and their children boarded the ship to New England in 1638/39. Yet, leave they did and today there are thousands of Burt descendants in the United States and Canada.





3 thoughts on “William Marche & Family, French Huguenots”

  1. I’m also one of the thousands of descendants of Henry Burt & Eulalia Marche – through Patience Burt and John Bliss. Thanks for sharing this. I haven’t studied this line much yet.

  2. Interesting read. Thank you. I am also one of the thousands of Henry and Eulalia Burt’s descendants. My mother’s (1920-2014) maiden name was Burt, but she was the last of her Burt-surnamed branch. My mother did a lot of research on her Burt “line”.

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