Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Mary Penington

bap 1623 - 1682

Mary Penington (nee Proude) was the only daughter of Anne Fagge and Sir John Proude, an army officer from Kent in the service of the States of Holland.  In 1627 she was orphaned and came under the guardianship of Sir Edward Partridge, who was a bachelor.  He arranged for her to live with guardians. 

When she was about nine years old she came to live with Edward Partridge’s widowed sister, Lady Katherine Springett, who had three children of her own. Katherine Springett practiced medicine, including surgery and Mary learnt much from her.  There is no evidence that Mary was involved with medical practice herself but much later she did pass on some of what she had learnt to her daughter Gulielma. 

When she was 18 Mary married Sir William Springett, one of Katherine’s sons. It is written that they married without a ring which was unusual and showed that neither of them was concerned about society’s norms.  It was a happy marriage and they had a son John.

However the English Civil War between King and Parliament was now raging in many parts of the country, and William was soon serving in the Parliamentary army. In 1643 he helped to recapture Arundel, on the south coast, but was then taken ill with a fever.  When Mary heard the news she set off to be with him.  It was a perilous journey for a woman, the more so because she was heavily pregnant. Sadly he died on  3rd February 1644,not long after she reached him.Their daughter was born a few days later and her mother chose the names Gulielma (the Latin form of William) Maria Posthuma. 

Mary had long taken  a deep interest in spiritual affairs although she rejected the established church. Consequently she refused to have the child baptised despite many entreaties from her relatives.  Several church ministers were sent to try to persuade her but to no avail..

Katherine Springett went to live with Mary to help her to look after her children.  The two women shared a great bond.  Mary’s spiritual dissatisfaction continued and she wrote that she was “wearied in seeking and not finding”.  Both Katherine and Mary declined several offers of marriage. 

Mary had been well taught by Katherine how to administer her estates and her inheritance. She was passionate about design, an interest that continued throughout her life.  She enjoyed drawing up the architectural design for new buildings and supervising their construction. Although opposed, first as a Puritan and then as a Quaker, to viewing church buildings as "sacred," she built at least one domestic house, board by board, as an expression of religious devotion. She notes almost wistfully, "if I had lived when building houses for the service of the Lord was accepted and blessed, I could not have had a sweeter, stiller and pleasanter time."

Ten years after the death of William Springett she met Isaac Penington, the son of Sir Isaac Penington, the Lord Mayor of London.  She was immediately attracted to him because he was a deeply religious man and shared some of her own sentiments.  They married in 1654 and settled in Chalfont Grange, near Chalfont St Peter in Buckinghamshire,  where they had five children.

In 1658 they both embraced Quakerism.  This was after Isaac Penington had heard George Fox speak.  Later, Mary was to write a 'spiritual autobiography' entitled Experiences in the life of Mary Penington in which she described her own religious search and the Quakerism she had found.

Many problems now came their way. In particular, they lost their home in Chalfont Grange, when Sir Isaac Penington’s lands were confiscated. Mary's financial awareness was a great help in keeping the family solvent, despite this. Although many of her lands were also taken, she was able to purchase and renovate a house at Woodside, in nearby Amersham, for the family. This enabled them  to remain part of the Chalfont St Peter Quaker community. The young William Penn became a frequent visitor, and he and Mary's daughter Gulielma Springett were married in 1672.

Isaac Penington died in 1679.  Mary felt the loss acutely and her health declined.  She died in 1680, while she was  staying with Gulielma at Worminghurst Hall, Sussex, a property probably given by Mary to her daughter  on her marriage. William Penn had sailed for Pennsylvania two weeks earlier, to establish his Holy Experiment.  

Her will shows her well-balanced and fair minded but tender nature.  She stated that “As my daughter Penn hath a large proportion of this world’s substance and my latter children have not anything, I find it my duty to provide for them”.

Mary is buried with Isaac, at Jordans in Buckinghamshire, along with Penn and Gulielma and many grandchildren.

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