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Gee of Chester

Henry Gee (d. 1545), the "reforming Mayor", was twice Sheriff and twice Mayor of Chester. His son, Edmund, also served as Sheriff and Mayor.

One of the current mysteries in the Gee family history is the origin of the Gee of Cheshire and Lancashire. The distribution of Gee in England, for example the census of 1881, shows the greatest densities of Gee are in Leicestershire, Cheshire and Liverpool.

Looking at the adjacent counties, it is apparent that Gee in these initial centers have radiated out to nearby counties, albeit only very slowly. This is completely in keeping with the predominant pattern for other surnames.

Robert and Dicon Gee
Henry VII’s accession, following the defeat and death of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, marked the shift of power from white rose to red rose, from York to Lancaster. Gee start appearing in Lancashire right after Battle of Bosworth. Perhaps the new Lancastrian king brought new opportunities in Manchester and the surrounding area.

The Recognizances of Chester refer to a Robert Gee who was son of Dicon [a diminutive for Richard] of Gee and father of Alexander Gee of Rothley in 1494. This was quoted in George Ormerod’s early history of Cheshire, and has been repeated many times. However this cannot be correct—that would have been much too early, Alexander1L of Rothley would have been born around 1380. More likely the Recognizances has it backwards, and this Robert would have been son of Alexander of Rothley not his father. This would fit, as Alexander’s other sons and grandsons married daughters of knights. This is possibly a confusion of the Latin—apparently no one has examined the original documents, only the translated transcription. If so, then this Robert might be the same Robertus Gee, de Southwald, merchant, who was trading in York in 1497, or if not then perhaps a near relation.

According to Ormerod, Dicon married Marion de Dokenfeld, of the Stockport family that is now called Dukenfield. (A famous American actor is a descendent; his given name was William Claude Dukenfield, which he shortened to W.C. Fields.)

Charles Gee
Another early Gee in this area was Charles Gee, a priest at Trafford Chapel, the oldest chantry in the Collegiate Church of Manchester. He was presented by Sir Edmond Trafford in 1514. Trafford is part of Stretford, and the Trafford family held Stretford since the eleventh century. Trafford Chapel was the burial place of the Trafford for centuries. Charles likely had a connection with the Traffords.

In 1540, Henry VIII sanctioned the destruction of shrines to saints and confiscated their accumulated wealth. Charles resigned from the chantry in 1542, typically a pension was offered to the chantry priests.

Henry Gee, twice Mayor of Chester
The best-documented early Cheshire Gee is Henry Gee (d. 1545), twice Sheriff and twice Mayor of Chester. We do not know the relationship between Charles Gee, priest in Manchester, and Henry in Chester. However a clue is that Henry’s sometime partner Edward Janney, and Henry’s daughter and her husband Richard Shalcross, held lands of the Collegiate Church.

We know that Henry was not from Chester itself. When he was admitted a freeman in Chester as a mercer in 1525, his entry fee indicated that he had not apprenticed in Chester. He rose very fast, becoming Sheriff in 1526.

His Chester address was 61-63 Watergate Street, he may have leased the property from the Stanley family, the Earls of Derby. Much of the original structure still stands within its present day Georgian exterior.

In 1093 the second earl of Chester, Hugh Lupus, had re-established a church housing the relics of St. Werburg as a Benedictine abbey. St. Werburg is Chester’s patron saint. Possibly this was done as a way to rival St. Johns, which represented the power of the bishop.

By the time Henry VIII dissolved the abbeys between 1536 and about 1541, they controlled about two million acres—over 16 percent of England. Within a few years around half was sold, roughly one million acres. The wealthy among the gentry were able to purchase lands, often at extremely favorable prices. On 20 January 1539/40, St. Werburg was dissolved and reopened a year later as the cathedral for the new See of Chester.

Henry, twice Sheriff and twice Mayor, acquired a number of properties. Manley was among the holdings of St. Werburg. Manley appears in Henry’s will.

William Hardware, another Mayor of Chester whose son married Henry's daughter, and Henry's business partner Edward Janney acquried land adjacent to Manchester Cathedral. Henry also acquired The Peel in Mouldsworth. Meanwhile William Gee was acquiring land in Beverley and Cornelius Gee land in Rothley at this time. Almost certainly most or all of those lands had been made available by the Dissolution of the Abbeys.

There are many accounts of Henry’s life. He is still famous as one of Chester’s reforming Mayors. He instituted the annual Chester Races, one of the earliest thoroughbred races. Some say the English term for a race horse, ‘gee-gee”, comes from his name.

Upon his death his wife Elizabeth married Sir William Calverley, yet upon her death she still chose to be interred beside her first husband. No doubt she had many happy memories of their life in Chester and his beloved Little Mouldsworth.

Those names again
To understand Henry’s ancestry, let’s start by examining the evidence. The name Henry appears earlier in the Rothley Gee family (there was HenryL5 in Rothley, father of WilliamL6 of Hull.

Could they be one and the same, therefore making Henry of Chester the father of Wm6? This would go a long way to explaining a great many otherwise coincidences.

Henry of Chester married Elizabeth Sneyd, the daughter of the Chester Recorder. Elizabeth’s sister Dame Jane Legh, wife of Sir John Legh of Knutsford, witnessed Henry’s will. A family pedigree shows Henry5’s wife as the daughter of Cornelius Gee. But this same pedigree seems to differ with property records over Cornelius’ son.

Note also the name Edmond reappears in the Cheshire family. Edmund2 was an ancestor of HenryL5 in the Rothley family, Henry of Chester named his son Edmond.

Again, the family business
Just as Hull, Chester was a port. Since Chester was on the opposite side of the country, it tended to trade with Ireland, as well as Portugal and Spain, rather than the Continent. Henry had commercial dealings with a Spaniard and named him in his will. His son Edmund brought in port from the eponymous Oporto in Portugal.

Henry’s occupation was draper, in those days that meant a cloth merchant. We do not know whether the family in Leicester was shipping cloth to Chester, either by sea or overland, but Henry was selling cloth. And very successfully, because following the Dissolution, he was wealthy enough to buy land in various areas around Chester.

Sheriff/Twice Mayor
The similarity of their careers is perhaps even more striking. Two men, both outsiders, arrive in major cities. Both become successful merchants with products based on wool, then become Sheriff and then Mayor multiple times. This cannot be a coincidence.

It is tempting to speculate that Henry brought up sons Edmond in Chester and William in Hull with the connections, social position and skills to reach those positions in their respective communities.

The evidence from arms
Consider the similarity of arms of the two families. The Leicestershire Gee arms were a red shield with a blue sword with a gold hilt. In Manchester, identical arms but a silver shield with a blue sword with a gold hilt. In Chester, a red shield with a silver sword with a gold hilt.

Working with the Clarenceux King of Arms, the Very Rev. Henry Gee, D.D., Dean of Gloucester, exhaustively examined the records of the College of Arms in London. Their conclusion was that the Leicester family arms preceded any written records. THey also believed that the Leicester arms were likely the original arms. They are also the simplest: no motto, no crest.

The evidence from the advisors of James I
Edward Gee, the son of Ralph Gee of Manchester and Henry’s grandson, became Chaplain-in-Ordinary to James I. WilliamL6’s son, Sir William Gee, became Secretary to James I, Keeper of the Seal and a member of his Privy Council. Yet another connection between the Lancashire and Leicestershire families.

Merchant’s marks
More evidence comes from examining the merchant’s mark of both men. Other than changing the letter of their first name (W and H), the marks are identical.

Other evidence
Eustace Gee, HenryL5’s heir in Rothley, named his house in Rothley “Chester Place”. We do not understand the connection, but the family was still well-connected across these distances. (Is this the same Eustace who was heir to Cornelius? The heir or the yeoman? And was this the Cornelius who was the father of Henry’s first wife?)

There is also the touching similarity that each was literate enough to write his own will in his own hand.
So… where did Henry come from?

Another possible ancestor is RogerL4, HenryL5’s uncle and WilliamL6’s great-uncle. Roger is believed to have had three children although none of their names have been recorded.

However given the circumstantial evidence, it is tempting to speculate that Henry of Chester was HenryL5 and father to both Edmond of Chester and WilliamL6 of Hull. If so then Henry would have taught both sons the cloth trade and exporting, showed them the path to becoming Sheriff and Mayor of the two cities and how to acquire land.

Edmund, also Sheriff and Mayor of Chester
As we have seen, Henry’s son Edmund became Sheriff and Mayor of Chester. He leased property in Liverpool from the De Molineaux and became one of the first Mayors there. Contemporary Gee in Oporto may descend from him or from Gee who were associated with Edmond.

Edmund had descendents according to Harleian Manuscript 1535, which is an "Heraldic Book written, tricked, and coloured (as it seemeth) by the hand of Mr Jacob Chaloner." Whoever drew up the pedigree noted by a wavering line that there were other descendants, but did not know who they were or considered them of no importance to his main theme. We will learn more about these descendants later.

The colour of both shield and sword firmly identify Henry and Edmund as the Manchester line, differenced from other lines of the family by changing the shield from Rothley red to Manchester silver.

The bottom half of the page clears up something of a mystery. It shows the pedigree of “William Alcock also Hardware”. Henry’s daughter Ann is frequently described as marrying Henry Hardware, the son of William Allcock, which has never made sense. From this manuscript we learn that, after the death of Richard Shalcross, Henry’s daughter Elizabeth remarried. Her second husband was William Allcock, the manuscript goes on to trace her descendants through many generations.

WilliamL5 Gee of Hull was benefactor of Hull Grammar School. The school was endowed by Dr. John Alcock, Bishop of Rochester, Worcester and Ely, afterwards Lord Chancellor of England and founder of Jesus College, Cambridge. In addition, Robert Alcock was Mayor of Hull in 1480. Are these indications that there was also an Alcock connection between Hull and Chester?

We learn more about those descendents from a discussion of Edmund’s daughter Alyse d 1591. George Pendleton, of Manchester, yet another draper, married Alice Gee probably around 1560. Alice is slightly misdescribed as the “daughter of Edward Gee, of Manchester”. The confusion between the names Edmund and Edward was likely introduced in later years, the abbreviations Edw and Edm being quite similar in the clerks’ handwriting of the time. Alyse’s will lists a number of other siblings and their descendents.

Edmund died very suddenly of “Sweating Sickness” in 1551, leaving a number of small children. He would have still been relatively young. Sweating Sickness kills in hours, it is thought to have been what today we call a hantavirus. He died so rapidly that he left no will to give us the details on how his estate was settled although we do know many of his children from Alys’ will.

Edmond’s stepmother Elizabeth remarried, and that she had two daughters. She was from a family of means. She was the daughter of a former Recorder of Chester, and her sister became a dame when she married Sir John Legh of Booths Hall, Knutsford. Very likely between Edmund’s estate and arrangements by Elizabeth and her family, the children were provided the means to live comfortably. Later we will discuss evidence of just what may have been done.

Ralph Gee was another of Henry’s sons, born around 1540. He married Jane Mosley. Ralph Gee died in 1598 and was buried at Manchester Cathedral.

Ralph famously had three sons who became clerics: Rev. Edward, DD, Rev. John M.A. and Rev. George.

Rev. John Gee, M.A. (1571-1631) became vicar of St. Mary, Dunsford, Devon, from 7 Mar 1593, "on deprivation of William Thomas: pat[ron]. Thomas Fulford". Just eight years later he was under the Queen’s patronage: "John Gee, collated 19 Oct 1601, per lapsum temporis: pat[ron]. Q. Eliz.” He died, as his gravestone informs us 31 May 1631, æt. 63; and was buried 4 June 1631. He was succeeded upon his death by William Garnet on 15 Nov. 1631, the patroness this turn, Sarah Gee, his widow.

So while his patron was originally a Fulford of the local manor when he was instituted, only eight years later he was collated under Royal authority. We know that his two vicar brothers went to Brasenose College, Oxford. John went instead to Exeter, which was in the Province of Canterbury rather than the Province of York, and was ordained at Exeter two years before he became vicar of Dunsford.

Rev. John married first Grace Beard, he wrote a very moving poem upon her death promising her never to remarry, which however he subsequently did.

Rev. John’s son is minorly famous. Also named John, the Rev. John Gee, M.A. Brasenose College, b. 1597 converted to Catholicism. Recanting, he returned to the Church of England and wrote two vehemently anti-Catholic books on the subject, The Foot out of the Snare and New Shreds of the Old Snare.

Sir Orlando Gee descends from this line, and also Rev. Edward Gee, D.D. b 1565/66, who became Chaplain to James I.

Place  Chester 
Latitude  53.191458 
Longitude  -2.895007 

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