The Adventurous Ann Fanshawe

Susan Payne

Ann Fanshawe portrait by Franz Gabriel Fiesinger (National Portrait Gallery ref: D11000)
National Portrait Gallery, London
Monochrome image of Balls Park mansion. Dated 1890 (HALS Ref: DE/X1025/2/39/333)
Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies
Slide mount records 'Ware Priory. H Rose'. dated 1938 (HALS ref: DE/X1025/1/116/5)
Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies

It is 1650 and two ships standoff in the Straits of Gibraltar. One carries exiles from the English Civil War; the other is a pirate ship looking for treasure and hostages. Standing quietly by a group of armed male civilians, making a show to dissuade the pirates’ from boarding, is Ann Fanshawe. Aged 25, keen to stand by her much-loved husband, but also up for an adventure!2

Balls Park

Looking forward at her birth in 1625, Sir John and Margaret Harrison must have hoped for of a settled life for their daughter. Her father made his wealth in service to the crown and built Balls Park mansion with it. Ann stayed there following her mother’s death in 1640, where she enjoyed the freedom to explore the park.

As the political situation became volatile, John was taken prisoner in London but managed to escape to Oxford in 1643. It was here that Ann joined him to become part of the court gathered in the safety of the royalist town. Here Ann met Richard Fanshawe, a linguist, poet, and one-time near-neighbour across the Lea Valley at Ware Park. They married the following year; she was 19, he was 37.

Civil Wars and the Commonwealth

The turbulent decades of Ann’s marriage were driven by the English Civil Wars and the couple’s loyalty to the king. The wars were fought over the power balance between Parliament and Crown, ending with the execution of Charles I and establishment of the Commonwealth. Surviving royalists had to decide on exile or to renounced the Cause. Removed from their sources of wealth, those who left suffered reduced living conditions. But those choosing to stay were heavily taxed and unable to take a role in public life. Ann and her husband choose the life of exiles on the Continent.

Ware Park

During the late 1640s, Ann ventured back to Hertfordshire to stay with family. The Fanshawe family quietly celebrated as the Ware Park estate was brought back from Parliament, providing an opportunity to settle into family life. Ann made life-long friendships with her sisters’ in-law as well as the family ward, Katherine Ferrers.

By 1649, the Ann and Richard were off again on royal business, this time to Ireland to help raise Catholic opposition. As Cromwell’s forces progressed through the island, Ann was temporarily caught behind enemy lines in Cork. Spotting an old acquittance amongst the Parliamentarian officers, Ann managed to secure a pass for her small family and narrowly escaped to the coast.2

Ware Priory

The 1650s were a dark time for the couple. Richard was taken prisoner following the rout of Royalist forces at the battle of Worcester. Ann visited his prison window every day in Whitehall, before obtaining bail on the grounds of ill health.1

Years of ill-health dogged the couple now; staying with family and occasionally getting leave to seek cures at Bath. In 1657 Ann & Richard rented Ware Priory for their five surviving children; a chance to recuperate. At this point, with the public’s growing disillusionment with the Commonwealth, the couple were looking for the return of the king and restoration of the family fortune.2

Finally in 1660 the king returned to England. Richard rode with Charles during the coronation the following year. However, the king’s older advisors were being side-lined for men of Charles’ own age. Ann went with her husband on diplomatic postings to Portugal and Spain. She loved life at court, the culture, and the entertainments.

In 1665 Ann gave birth to her final child, the last of 20 (including miscarriages) in a marriage of as many years. Richard died unexpectedly the following year and she returned to England with her small family.

Death & Legacy

Now, the Jacobean court had settled into a status quo that no longer accepted women taking an active role, unless associated with sexual availability.2 Ann’s father died in 1669, leaving Balls Park to her half-brother and to her, a portion of property in the north. She petitioned the crown for money owed to Richard (both in loans and wages) but did not receive all that was due. The wider Fanshawe family fortune declined to the extent that Ware Park was sold in the 1660s.

Ann died in 1680 and is buried at St Mary’s church, Ware. She is remembered now for her Memoirs written in the last years of her life, offering an alternative reading of the Royalist life in the 17th century. More recently, her Receipt book has come to the fore. Ann was amongst a small number of exiles, who introduced the cookery of the continent into their English households through the collection of cookery and medicinal recipes from friends made through travel.1


1 Peter Davidson. Ann, Lady Fanshawe (1625-1680) in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004.

2 Lucy Moore. Lady Fanshawe’s Receipt Book: An Englishwoman’s Life during the Civil War. Atlantic Books, 2017. 978 1 78239 812 7

This page was added on 29/12/2023.

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