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Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Bliss Family of Rehoboth, MA

John Blysse (1550-1636) of Belstone, England m. Alice Smith (1565-1625).  They settled in Preston Parva, Northamptonshire, England. This was but a hamlet, about 5 miles south of Daventry, which was considered a market town. John was a blacksmith, along with his two sons, Thomas and George.

Thomas married Dorothy Wheatley, Nov. 22 1614 at Holy Cross Church in Daventry, Northamptonshire, England.  Thomas and Dorothy Bliss had seven children, all born in England.  Somewhere c. 1630-1632, a Dorothy Bliss died and another record shows Thomas Bliss married to an Abigail Southam in 1633, in Daventry, England. Here the confusion multiplies. Thomas and his children emigrated to the colonies c. 1638.  There is never any sign of a wife named Abigail in the colonies. Also, the Dorothy Bliss who died c. 1630 is not identified as the wife of Thomas, or anyone else. Furthermore, a Dorothy Bliss did die in Rehoboth MA around 1645. There was another Thomas Bliss living in the colonies at the same time.  He is the Thomas Bliss who moved on to CT and, over time, the records for the two men became entwined.

The Bliss home in England. 

For the purposes of this blog, Thomas Bliss of Rehoboth MA and his wife Dorothy Wheatley, will receive the focus. It is based on the premise that Thomas and Dorothy were in Rehoboth and that this Thomas did not marry a woman named Abigail. Dorothy’s parents were Frank Wheatley and Mary Fiennes of Tingsboro, Somerset, England.

Mary Fiennes has long been a thorn in the investigative side of family researchers and genealogists. It is claimed she is the illegitimate daughter of Gregory Fiennes, 10th Baron Dacre. He was a 2nd cousin of Anne Boleyn and a 5x gt. grandson of King Edward III (Plantagenet), through John of Gaunt. He was also, twice, a 6x gt. grandson of King Edward III, also through John of Gaunt, but different lines. He married Anne Sackville, a formidable woman with an imperious and dominating disposition. Anne was also a 1st cousin to Anne Boleyn and served as a maid-of-honor to Queen Elizabeth I. She and Gregory had but one child, a daughter, who died as a young child. When Gregory died in 1594, his Will made no mention of an illegitimate daughter. His titles and estates went to his sister Margaret, indicating that he had no issue to inherit. I have read dozens of reports on this by reliable researchers and some not so reliable. The bottom line for some is that Mary Fiennes couldn’t possibly be his daughter, legitimate or otherwise, because she wasn’t mentioned in his will or acknowledged in any other way. Because of this, many insist she is from another family line.  Because there is no written record is definitely important, but that doesn’t mean Gregory was not Mary’s father.

Let me offer a possible scenario. In a day and age when really large families were the norm, there was only one child in this marriage. If his wife, Anne, was that formidable, it’s easy to speculate that he had a dalliance elsewhere. If Mary was the result of that event, then it would put Gregory in a difficult position. He wouldn’t want his wife to discover this. But let’s say she did and there was hell to pay. Perhaps he settled some money on Mary’s mother and then to keep his wife under control (remember she had Queen Elizabeth’s ear) he promised to never acknowledge the child. The mother could have given the child her maiden name and none would be the wiser, but Mary used the Fiennes name. Anne Sackville Fiennes died a little more than a year after Gregory. Perhaps after that, Mary’s mother felt there was nothing to fear in allowing the child to use her father’s name. After all, she hadn’t inherited anything and wasn’t claiming anything.

The point of all this is – we’ll never know unless someone unearths information about the woman who was Mary’s mother. We don’t even know where she came from. She could have been a servant at home or at court. She could have been just about anybody, so where to look is a giant hay stack.

While I am on this particular topic, I am compelled to relate how absolutely astounded I am at the complete and utter rudeness of some people when they are answering questions on forums and elsewhere. These are not your dual and triple degreed history divas, but people who seem to think they have all the answers. When family researchers, seeking information to help them with their confusion on an issue ask questions, they don’t deserve the high handed, snotty/snooty replies they get. The problem being that the replies are often from people who want to sound like experts but end up looking like dopes. For instance, on one forum, a woman wrote about Mary Fiennes wondering if there was any new information about her connection to Gregory Fiennes. One reply was she should be doing her own research and not expect someone else to do it for her and another was – “it was 400 years ago, who cares?” Really?? There’s no excuse for this kind of behavior. Generally speaking, over the years I have found the most wonderful and helpful people while doing research. Everyone has been generous with their help and their knowledge. These other types are simply dorks. My rant for the day!!

                                               A Bliss home in Rehoboth, MA

Descent from Mary Fiennes and Frank Wheatley:

Mary Fiennes m. Frank Wheatley
Thomas Bliss m. Dorothy Wheatley
Jonathan Bliss m. Miriam Harmon
Martha Bliss m. Nathaniel Toogood
Anne Toogood m. John Finney
Nathaniel Finney m. Hannah Wood
Anne Finney m. Benjamin Tower
Phoebe Elizabeth Tower m. Edward Buck
George Buck m. Phebe Palmer
Catherine Buck m. Edward Cole
Rebecca Cole m. Alexander Chambers
Alvina Chambers m. Patrick John Broderick          My grandparents

The Antiquary, Vol. 17, p. 48-49
Rootsweb Gen-Medieval
Recollections of Emanuel School, Henry P. Maskell, London. 1904
Genealogy of the Wheatley  or Wheatleigh Family; A History of the Family in England and America, Hannibal Wheatley, 1902


  1. Bette--I am descended from Thomas Bliss and Dorothy Wheatley through their daughter, Mary. Was Mary Fiennes born in Maiden Newton, Dorset? If so, that is not really close, although in the same general area of England, to Herstomonceux castle in Sussex, where Gregory Fiennes lived. Perhaps the mother of Mary Fiennes was sent away for her pregnancy/birth or perhaps she was from that area--have you read about this aspect at all? Also, the Wheatley family were from Tingsboro, Somerset but there is no such place and I have read on different forums that the city might be Timsbury or Treborough--do you know anything about this? Thank you---Suzanne

  2. I have seen references to where Mary Fiennes was born, but I fear none have proof. From what I have read, Gregory Fiennes was an irresponsible n'er do well. It wouldn't surprise me one bit that he strayed far and wide. I have chosen to go with the most widely accepted location until further info becomes available. As to the named Tingsboro, this could have been a clerical error that has gone uncorrected.

  3. I believe the reference to Tingsboro may actually be Timsbury. I did some further digging and found Tingsboro in several statements, always followed parenthetically by Timsbury. Whether the name changed or was just copied incorrectly from old records is unknown. Thank you for pointing this out to me. I have changed my info.

  4. Bette-
    Do you have any data that supports Martha Bliss being married to Nicholas Ide- 16 May 1647 Springfiled, Hampden, Massachuseets, USA?

  5. Gregory Fiennes has been maligned because he was a recusant (Catholic at the time of ELizabeth I). According to historians, he even helped bring Catholic priests to England from France. History also tells us that the children of recusants were sometimes sent off to live with relatives or friends in order to avoid the stiff fines imposed on their parents if they did not attend Anglican services.That may be why Mary Fiennes was living in an area where she would meet Frank Wheatley.