Colonel Francis Hacker, parliamentarian and regicide


Colonel Francis Hacker.

THE Nottinghamshire Hackers were a younger branch of a Somersetshire family, once living in Yeovil; their first representative who settled at East Bridgford in Nottinghamshire was John Hacker, the grandfather of the subject of this biography, who is presumed to have come to the district about 1591, in which year he bought the estate of Sir Robert Sheffield, including Sheffield Hall, then so-called. A fine mural monument with his effigy, together with that of his wife, at a prie-dieu, with their four sons and three daughters in a row beneath, still survives in a good state of preservation on the north wall of the church at East Bridgford. The inscription is as follows :—

' Here lieth buried ye bodies of John Hacker of Bridgford, Esq. and Margaret his wife, who left issue 4 sonnes and 2 daughters. Hee departed t's life ye 28th of March A'o D'ni 1620, and shee departed t's life ye 5th of January, 1627, in whose memory their said children have erected t's monument.'1

The four sons (represented on the monument) were Francis, John (of Trowell), Rowland (died 1639) and Richard (of Flintham) and the daughters Maria, Luce and Elizabeth. All these children, save Elizabeth, were born before the family came to East Bridgford. The sons all married and left issue.

The eldest of the four sons, Francis, the father of the parliamentarian, married twice, first, Margaret, daughter of George Rossell of Radcliffe-on-Trent2, second, Elizabeth, widow successively, of Nicholas Strelley of Strelley and Richard, second Lord Biron, by each of whom she had had a son.3 He acted as agent to George, Earl of Rutland, and his accounts survive 'of summes of money layd out, payd and disbursed by him to and from the use of the Right Honorable George, Earle of Rutlande, since this account made at the audit the xxjth of September, 1637';4 he also acted in a similar capacity when Belvoir Castle was surrendered to the commonwealth forces, 1644.

He had seven children, five sons and two daughters, (three of the sons being by Margaret, his first wife); they were Francis, John, Richard, Thomas, Rowland, Anne and Alice. His second wife was buried at East Bridgford, November 27th, 1634 and he himself on January 20th, 1646, in the evening, for some reason.5 There survives no record of the baptism of any of his children or grandchildren at East Bridgford, a fact probably due to his extreme puritanism and dislike of the sacramental side of Christianity. By his will, dated August 17th, 1640, he wishes to be buried near his wife at East Bridgford and gives £2 to the poor of that village and of Colston Bassett, to be distributed at his burial; he gives his lands at Colston Bassett to his son Francis and his heirs, his East Bridgford lands to his son Thomas, and charges his estates with an annual payment of £20 to his youngest son Rowland. He likewise names his daughter Anne and his daughter Alice Grococke and her child. The son John had died previously and Richard was left out, as a ne'er-do-well.

Captain Rowland Hacker, who was an ardent cavalier, maintained a long defence of the royalist fort erected at Trent Bridge against the parliamentary garrison of Nottingham, attained the rank of colonel and lost his right hand in action.

Thomas Hacker, serving in his brother Rowland's company, was killed in a skirmish near Colston Bassett while commanding a troop of horse, and was buried at East Bridgford, May 12th, 1643.6

The baptism of Francis has not been found nor is the date and place of his birth known.7 Firth, following Briscoe, calls him the third son, but this is impossible. His parents were married at East Bridgford, December 23rd, 1617, and he himself was married July 5th, 1632.8 As he could not legally have married under the age of fourteen, he must have been born sometime in 1618. This is confirmed by a statement of Mrs. Hutchinson9 that Francis was his father's eldest son.

Francis inherited the family lands at Colston Bassett and Stathern in Leicestershire, and brought his bride to live at Stathern Hall. Her name was Isabell Brunts, of East Bridgford, one of the four daughters of Gabriel Brunts of the same village, who died July 18th, 1638 and was buried there10 by Isabella his wife, daughter of Rowland Wand, Esq. of Mansfield Woodhouse.

Presumably the five children of Francis and Isabell were born and baptized at Stathern but it has been impossible to check this fact as the pages bearing the entries of baptisms for the years 1571-1664 have been cut out of the register, why, when and by whom is unknown. The cutting was skilful, clean and done at a distant date.

Hacker was constable of the village in 1635, as appears from an entry in the constables' accounts for the village:11

'Mr. Hacker chosen Constabell of Statherne in the countie of Lessester in the year 1635 and in the 5th day of April.' One of his duties apparently was to see that the ale brewed in the village was up to assize standards and to report on the matter to the justice of the peace. He also had to collect the ship-money, the tax which, imposed on ports and coast towns in 1634, was extended to the inland counties in 1635 and caused so much discontent. There is the entry:—'Ittem payd to him (Mr. Elston) which was owing in tax for the ships.'

The house in which he lived was to the east of the church, half-way up a fairly steep slope, now known as Mill Hill, and enjoyed a splendid view over the whole of the fertile Vale of Belvoir. The Belvoir woods, much more extensive than now, began two hundred yards or so from the walls enclosing the grounds. The house was destroyed soon after Hacker's execution, but, incorporated in the boundary of one of the present fields on the site, there still remains the buttress of one of the outside walls, with part of the mortar in the interstices of the stones, protected by the hawthorn hedge which continues the boundary of the field; running from the buttress as a boundary is about fifteen yards of a stone wall, whose stones are remarkably even and smooth, save on the top where the wall has collapsed and been rebuilt, a wall which is probably part of that surrounding the grounds of the old hall. At right angles to this is another stone wall forming, with a hedge, the boundary of a field, but this is a rough structure and probably no part of the hall, although stone from it was used in the wall's construction. The field which is the site of the hall still has a number of undulations and mounds covering the foundations of the hall; there can also be discerned the outlines of a terrace. The drive to the hall survives in the form of a cart-road which debouches on to the road half-way up the Mill Hill. The earth in one part of the field has recently been disturbed for the erection of a blockhouse and, in the debris, were numerous fragments of rough pottery, made from local clay and discoloured by the iron-ore in it. An aerial photograph of the site would probably recover the complete ground-plan of the building and gardens.

1 The date of John Hacker's death is incorrectly recorded, for the burial register states that he was buried "ye 29 Marche 1616." His wife Margaret was the daughter of Thomas Goode, of Bassingbourne, Cambridgeshire. They had 3 daughters, and not 2, as here stated.
2 The marriage was solemnized at East Bridgford, December 23rd, 1617.
3 Hutchinson Memoirs, ed  Firth, p. 285 n.
4 H.M.C., Rutland IV., p. 528.
5 East Bridgford Register of Burials.
1634 Nov. 27 Elizabeth. Uxor Francisci Hacker, erat sepulta.
1646 Jan. 20 Frauciscus Hacker, vesperi.
6 East Bridgford Register of Burials.
12 May 1643. Thomas Hacker, occisus in Colston Bassett.
7 D.N.B. art. Hacker, Francis. Briscoe, 'Old Nottinghamshire ' art. Hacker Family, Lawson Lowe.
8 East Bridgford Register of Marriages. Nottm. Parish Registers—Marriages. St. Peter's Church, 1572-1872, ed. Phillimore and Ward.
9 Hutchinson Memoirs, ed. Firth, p. 255.
10 East Bridgford Register of Burials.
11 Constable's Accounts (in the Parish Church). 'The Accounts of the Constables of the Village of Stathern, Leics.' E. L. Guilford, 'Arch. Journ.' 1912.