Oxford History: Mayors & Lord Mayors


Henry Silvester (c.1590–1664)

Mayor of Oxford 1645/6

Henry Silvester (or Sylvester/Sylvestre) was born in c.1590. He was the apprentice of Timothy Hatton, and was admitted free on 19 November 1611, becoming an Oxford mercer.

He served as Constable in the year 1616/17. In about 1617 he took on an apprentice, Robert Silvester, who was probably a relation.

He was elected on to the Common Council on 2 October 1618. On 10 September 1622 it was agreed that he should have a Chamberlain’s place, for which he paid five marks.

Henry Silvester had the following children:

  • Matthew Silvester (baptised on 27 October 1614 at All Saints’ Church;
    buried there on 23 November 1619)
  • Catherine Silvester (baptised on 28 December 1615 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Felix Silvester (baptised on 2 May 1617 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Anne Silvester (baptised on 13 September 1618 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Edward Silvester (baptised on 1 August 1620 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Elizabeth Silvester (baptised on 2 June 1622 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Helen Silvester, probably Eleanor Silverster (baptised on 9 January 1623/4 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Joan Silvester (baptised in 1624 at All Saints’ Church;
    buried there on 28 October 1634)
  • Thomas Silvester (baptised on 22 November 1626 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Alice Silvester (baptised on 3 December 1630 at All Saints’ Church)
  • Susan Silvester (baptised on 29 June 1632 at All Saints’ Church;
    buried there on 17 September 1635).

On 11 October 1624 Silvester’s apprentice Robert Silvester, who was probably a relation, was admitted free.

On 26 June 1626 Silvester was granted leave to build a wall in the Guildhall, paying 4d. a year acknowledgement. This was on the site of the present 135 High Street in All Saints parish, and it appears that he was the occupant there.

On 28 September 1629 Silvester was appointed a Keykeeper, and on 21 September 1630 he was the third of five men successively chosen as Junior Bailiff but who refused to serve. On 15 September 1634 he was the first choice as Junior Bailiff, but again refused the position, paying a fine of £5. He eventually accepted the position of Senior Bailiff on 18 September 1637.

On 28 September 1638 it was agreed that

“Mr. Bailiffe Silvester shall have a dore way out of his backside into the Guildhall Court for his private use to walk into the same court uppon condicon that hee suffer not the schoolboies which his brother teacheth to have any passage thither, and that Mr Silvester shall enjoy this during the pleasure of this house”.

On 6 May 1643 his son Thomas Silvester was matriculated at the University of Oxford by Exeter College. He was aged 16 and had to work at the college as a Servitor. He obtained his B.A. on 20 February 1646/7.

On 6 March 1645 Silvester was elected one of the eight Assistants and, as he happened to be Keykeeper again, paid himself the customary £5. In September that year he was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1645/6), nominating the mercer William Cornish as his Chamberlain and proposing that Geoffrey Palmer be admitted free. On 11 August 1646 he was reimbursed for the £12 he spent on building a horse-guard in St Martin’s parish to prevent the soldiers who were garrisoned in the city during the residence of King Charles I using the hall as a horse-guard.

On 27 June 1646 Silvester, as “justice of the peace”, promised to send for the churchwardens of the parishes of St Mary Magdalen and St Thomas to secure the arrears of the tax for “the visited”.

In September 1648 Silvester ceased to be a Mayor’s Assistant by an order of Parliament that forbade him and Humphrey Boddicott from being members of the house, presumably because of their royalist tendencies.

In early 1654 his son Thomas Silvester, now a Master of Arts, died. There is a note in the register of St Peter-in-the-East parish that on 30 March that year Thomas Silvester, son of Mr Henry Silvester, was buried at All Saints’ Church.

On 18 September 1654 Silvester’s apprentice James Hawkins was admitted free. In 1658 Silvester again paid rent for the two holes in the wall of the Guildhall, indicating that he still lived and traded at 135 High Street.

On 14 May 1660, in the twelfth year of the reign of Charles II, Silvester was readmitted to the council house. On 17 September that year there was a discussion about precedence, and it was agreed that the election of Thomas Berry as an Assistant in place of Silvester was improper, and Silvester was restored to his position as one of the eight Assistants. In August the next year Silvester went out with the Mayor and senior councillors in a scarlet gown with footclothes and footmen to meet the King in his visit to the city.

On 9 September 1663 one of the bailiffs was appointed to officiate and take the place of Silvester at church and all meetings of the City during his sickness, and six months later he was dead

Henry Silvester died early in 1664 and was buried at All Saints’ Church on 30 March. He asked in his will to be buried near his wife and children there, and it appears that most of his children predeceased him, as the only ones mentioned in his will were Edward and Eleanor. He did however have five grandchildren to whom he left legacies: Henry, Alice, Eleanor, Richard, and Anne Silverster.

In March 1667 his daughter Eleanor Silvester paid two shillings for herself and her kinswoman of the same name (probably her niece), and one shilling for her lodger Martha Webb, at 135 High Street. In 1679 Eleanor was “burnt out and built a new”.

His daughter Miss Eleanor Silvester was buried at All Saints’ Church on 19 December 1690, and in 1693 her executors were still paying the rent on 135 High Street.

In 1665 a Henry Silvester paid tax on five hearths in All Saints parish, and similarly in 1696 a Henry Silvester paid tax on just one window in All Saints parish. Silvester did not obviously have a son of this name, and it is possible the name is used where “executors of” are meant.

See also:

  • PCC Will PROB 11/313/448 (Will of Henry Silvester, Mercer of Oxford, proved 20 April 1664)

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 20 September, 2018

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