Legend has it that Thomas Crosborough of Magna Doddington in Northamptonshire saved the life of the King and that the king proclaimed “Truly, thou art my veritable henchman.” Thomas changed his name to Henchman and a line was started. By most accounts, the man was Thomas Crosborough who lived during the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509). However, some accounts state the man was John Crosborough during the reign of Edward IV (1461-1483). Nice story. Is there any truth to it?
In his book “English Ancestral Names: The Evolution of the Surname from Medieval Occupations,” J.R. Dolan indicates that the word hensman was derived from the Germanic words “hengst” and “mann” – meaning a horseman or groomer. The meaning of the word “hensman” changed many times in medieval England. The name later was “applied to a young squire in training to be a knight.” Dolan indicates that at least one Hensman was a page of honor.
A problem arises when one finds that the Henchman spelling did not exist in Northamptonshire parish records until 1584, 75 years after the death of Henry VII (1485-1509).
This calls into question the statement made in historical books and monographs that place the Henchman family in that county “at a very distant period.” Additionally, only the Hensman surname has been found linked to Crosborough. This combination was most concentrated in the town of Ecton, but was also found in some Great Doddington and Wellingborough records. Crosborough (and Crosborowe, a variant spelling), was still being used in later generations in several locations, including Ireland and Australia.
Because a Thomas Henchman is identified as a “Skynner” in the Bishops Visitation of London 1633-1634, a microfilm of Skinners Guild apprenticeship records was obtained.
Upon examination, the following presentment was found in 1574.
“Thomas Crosborowe als Hensman the sonne of Thomas Crosborowe…of Wellingborowe in the county of Northampton has put himself in apr… for tenne years.”
This record shows that Thomas was a member of the Crosborough Hensman clan. Since boys typically completed apprenticeships at age 21 and Thomas was apprenticed for 10 years, it can be estimated that Thomas was born around 1663. It is the skinner Thomas Crosborough Hensman whose first three children were baptized with the surname Henchman in Burton Latimer between the years 1584-1588.
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII show that the Crosborowe surname continued with Hensman as an alias into the reign of Henry VIII :
“2218. GRANTS in MAY 1526. 2. John Crosborowe of London, ironmonger, alias of Wellyngborowe..., alias John Hensman, mercer. Special protection for one year, granted by the King in right of his royal prerogative. Del. Westm., 2 May 18 Hen. VIII.—S.B. “
The following example took place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the First, 79 years after the death of Henry VII.
The “Northamptonshire Lieutanancy Papers and Other Documents 1580-1614” lists a Tho. Crosborowe as a soldier “vnder the leading of Captaine Niccolles. (30 July 1588]
There is an additional Crosborough Henchman legend - that all people with the Henchman, Hincksman, Hensman, Hinchman surname are descended from this ancestral Crosborough. Family researchers have gone to great lengths to make those connections.
One story is that the Hincksmans and the Fiskes were old friends in Sussex County, England and came to Massachusetts together in 1637. Evidence shows that Rev. John Fiske and his family did indeed emigrate to Massachusetts in that year. They settled in the Massachusetts Bay colony, living first at Salem, then at Wenham, and lastly in Chelmsford.
However, no people with a surname approaching Hensman were found in Sussex. An Edmund Hincksman died in Chelmsford in 1668. His widow married John Fiske in 1672. Since Edmund Hincksman’s name does not appear in Rev. Fiske’s Diary, he was not a member of Fiske’s church in Salem, Wenham or Chelmsford. An Edmund Hincksman appears in records at the town of Marshfield in Plymouth colony from 1652 to 1658. Many family researchers believe him to be the same Edmund who died in Chelmsford. However, it is more likely that Edmund was from Martley, Worcestershire, not London. Most of his progeny settled in the neighboring town of Scituate.
Edmund’s widow joined the Chelmsford church in 1672, just before marrying Rev. Fiske.This legend is often stretched by stating that the Edmund Hincksman of Chelmsford was the Edward Henchman baptized in London in 1627 and was in the line of the Crosborough Henchmans. Some refer to him as Edward Edmund because they wanted him to be the ancestor they were looking for.
A few years ago, 8 purported male descendants of this storied line decided to have their DNA tested to verify their connection to Crosborough. Five different lines were identified. Only one man had a Crosborough match. He was David Crosborough Henchman, living in Australia. The Australian branch has impeccable documentation back to the Crosborough Henchman line.
So, the Crosborough name has persisted over 500 years since that the surname change was supposedly made.
By the way, the two men who were most closely related to me were shown to be from the same line as Daniel Henchman of Boston. At least one of those men is confirmed as being in my line of descent through the John Hinchman of Flushing, brother of Daniel Henchman of Boston and Worcester, Massachusetts, not Crosborough descendants.