BENCE, Alexander (c.1547-1613), of Aldeburgh, Suff.
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Family and Education
b. c.1547, 1st s. of John Bence of Aldeburgh, mariner and Joan, da. of William Wigenhall, burgess of Aldeburgh.1 m. 2 Sept. 1571, Mary (d. c.Jan. 1610), da. of Thomas Squire, of Aldeburgh, merchant, 9s. (5 d.v.p.), 2da. suc. fa. 1577. d. 27 Jan. 1613.2
Member, Virg. Co. by 1609.6
Bence may have been descended from the family of that name resident in the parish of Bungay in north Suffolk in the fourteenth century.7 His grandfather, Edmund, was resident in the East Anglian port of Aldeburgh by 1524, and was sufficiently prosperous to be included in the subsidy assessment.8 By the Elizabethan period the Bences were a thriving family of Aldeburgh merchants and mariners; a member of the family served as bailiff in 1566 and two years later Bence’s father and uncle were both assessed there for the subsidy. By 1582 seven people of that surname feature in the tax roll.9
When Bence’s father made his will in 1576 he bequeathed his Aldeburgh property to his youngest son Robert, leaving Bence only £20.10 However, it may be that his father had already made provision for Bence, who by this date was married and well advanced in Aldeburgh’s political hierarchy, having served as chamberlain of the borough in 1573-4. From the 1580s he was an important member of the Aldeburgh corporation, and in 1582 was one of six leading townsmen who, acting in trust for the borough, leased the demesne of the manor of Aldeburgh.11 Later that decade, Bence served as bailiff for the first time, an office he was to fill, according to his funeral monument, six times. In the Elizabethan period, he seems to have been somewhat overshadowed by his younger brother William†, who was returned for the borough twice, and his father-in-law Thomas Squire, also an Aldeburgh merchant, both of whom had higher assessments than him in 1582.12 Nevertheless, by the 1590s he was importing prunes from La Rochelle, some of which he shipped to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and he also engaged in the wine trade.13 In conjunction with Londoners as well as his father-in-law and brother, Bence also had considerable interests in shipping.14 At his death he owned shares in at least four vessels as well as two tackle-houses in Aldeburgh and other property in the borough and nearby parishes.15
William Bence was one of the inhabitants of the borough prosecuted in 1597 by (Sir) Michael Stanhope*, a prominent courtier and east Suffolk landowner, over an alleged riot which William may have partly instigated.16 This could explain why it was Bence, rather than his younger brother, who stood for election to the first Jacobean Parliament in 1604. An indenture was drawn up declaring Bence to have been elected alongside Thomas Rivett. However, the borough had been recently restored to the Howard family and it was probably due to pressure from Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk, that a second indenture was created omitting Bence, but including the Suffolk client, Sir William Woodhouse.17 Although no return from the borough survives among the records of Chancery, it was Woodhouse who took the seat, as it is his name that appears in the surviving lists of Members and the Journal. There is no evidence that Bence tried to contest the result, suggesting that he concurred with the borough’s decision.18
Despite his electoral failure, Bence emerged as the most prominent inhabitant of early Jacobean Aldeburgh. He headed the list of capital burgesses when the town’s charter was renewed in 1606, and had the joint highest subsidy rating the following year. In 1610 he was named first, after the bailiffs, in the indenture for the by-election caused by Rivett’s death.19 He drew up his will on 28 Aug. 1612, when, in addition to a funeral dole of £6, he gave £20 to the town’s poor. The will shows Bence to have been closely connected with Paul Birkbeck who, as well as holding a Suffolk living, was also chaplain to Robert Radcliffe, 5th earl of Sussex. Bence gave Birkbeck £3 to deliver four sermons and was godfather to Birkbeck’s son.20 Such an association with a pluralist makes it unlikely that Bence was numbered among the puritan ‘godly’. Bence died at Aldeburgh the following January, and was buried in the parish church, where a monument was erected depicting him in his bailiff’s gown and a ruff. His will was proved by his sons and executors, John and Robert, on 25 February.21 John was elected for the borough in 1624, while two other sons, Squire and Alexander, were returned in the 1640s.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Ben Coates
PROB 11/121, f. 79.
- 1. T.S. Hill, Regs. of Par. of Thorington, ped. bet. pp. 100-1, 105; PROB 11/59, f. 106v; 11/53, f. 331v.
- 2. Hill, 101-2, 105; PROB 11/106, ff. 14v-15.
- 3. Suff. RO (Ipswich), EE1/I2/1, ff. 68v, 212; EE1/C1/1, f. 2; Recs. of Bor. of Aldeburgh ed. A.T. Winn, 27, 30, 33.
- 4. C66/1708, m. 24.
- 5. E179/239/181.
- 6. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 219.
- 7. Cal. of Feet of Fines for Suff. ed. W. Rye, 239.
- 8. Suff. in 1524, ed. S.H.A. H[ervey] (Suff. Green Bks. x), 267; Hill, ped. bet. 100-1.
- 9. HMC Var, iv. 301; Suff. in 1568 ed. S.H.A. H[ervey] (Suff. Green Bks. xii), 208-9; E179/182/378.
- 10. PROB 11/59, f. 107.
- 11. Suff. RO (Ipswich), EE1/M1/5.
- 12. E179/182/378.
- 13. E190/476/17; 190/477/2; 190/477/5; APC, 1591-2, p. 47.
- 14. APC, 1589-90, p. 73; VCH Suff. ii. 217; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 141.
- 15. PROB 11/121, ff. 79-81; C142/335/21.
- 16. STAC 5/S69/4.
- 17. HMC Var. iv. 304; C78/363/5.
- 18. H. Hulme, ‘Corrections and additions to the official ‘return’ of Members of Parl., 1603/4’, BIHR, v. 103; CJ, i. 154b.
- 19. E179/239/181; C219/35/2/56.
- 20. PROB 11/121, ff. 81v-2; C.H.E. White and F. Haslewood, ‘Condition of the archdeaconries of Suff. and Sudbury in the year 1603’ Suff. Inst. Arch. Procs. vi. 380.
- 21. C142/335/21; PROB 11/121, f. 82.