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John Wightman


John1 Wightman1 was born Bet. 1520 - 1534 in England, and died Bef. June 1580 in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England1,2,3. He married Modwen Caldwall1 November 6, 1553 in Burton-on-Trent, England1, daughter of William Caldwall. She was born ca. 1536 in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, and died Aft. 1580.

It should be noted that two often-recited genealogical assertions about the parentage of Edward Wightman are incorrect. First, his parents were not John Wightman and Ann Moreton. These two members of the Wightman Burbage clan did indeed have a child named Edward, but the recorded facts about this Edward clearly show that Edward, son of Ann Moreton, cannot be Edward of Burton-on-Trent. This was established by the careful work of Mary Ross Whitman in the mid- 20th century, but this has not stopped many genealogists from replicating the probable 19th century error. Second, his parents were not John Wightman and Modwen Haytor. This conjecture apparently stems from the record of Modwen Wightman serving as a witness for the baptism of a Haytor child, which was recounted by Mary Ross Whitman. However, nothing in Whitman's report of the record suggests that Modwen Wightman was related in any way to the child who was being baptized. Moreover, other documentary evidence, uncovered by English historians has rather solidly established Edward's parentage as John Wightman and Modwen Caldwall. The genealogical world has not caught up yet.

It is tempting to speculate that John was born in Burbage, Leicestershire, since all his children were born there, but nothing in the documentary record supports this conclusion. The Early History of the Wightman Family in England describes the reasonable scenario that John was the son of William Wightman of Wyken (Hinckley, near Burbage). Combining this speculation with Mary Ross Whitman's work on the Burbage lineage leads to the possibility that John's grandfather was Richard Wightman of Burbage, who married Scisseley Wodam (heir to the arms of Trussel) and lived at a large manor called "Old Grange." If true, his grandfather would have been Thomas Wightman of Burbage (ca. 1440- ca. 1500).

During the 1550's, John was apparently the headmaster of the grammar school at Burton-on-Trent. After 1557, he was headmaster at the grammar school in Repton, Derbyshire, a few miles from Burton. He may have moved to Burbage around 1560, or perhaps he remained at Repton while Modwen lived at Burbage. In any case, throughout the 1560's and 1570's, Modwen would bear children at Burbage. In the 1580's, it appears that the family may have relocated back to Burton-on-Trent, where Modwen's cloth business was centered.

Modwen, like many other women in Burton-on-Trent, was named for St. Modwen, an Irish abbess who lived sometime between the 5th and 9th century. An Irishman named Conchubran came to Burton in the very early 11th century and brought with him the worship of the cult of St. Modwen. The remains of the saint were transferred to Burton sometime around 1008 and the town was known as "Mudwennestow" ("Modwen's Holy Place") about this time. Additional relics were found and miracles attributed to her in the 13th century, which caused a resurgence of interest in her worship. The cult became persecuted in 1538, when Sir William Bassett of Meynell Langley destroyed the shrine to Modwen and had her image sent to London. This was just about the time of Modwen's birth. The people of Burton continued to use the unusual given name for a few decades after that time.

Modwen was the daughter of prominent Burton-on-Trent clothing trader, William Caldwall, and niece of Dr. Richard Caldwall, a physician who practiced in Lichfield and London. Richard Caldwall was a very prominent physician; he helped establish a lecture series on surgery at the College of Physicians, in conjunction with Lord John Lumley. Her father, William, helped build the first fulling mill in Burton in 1555. This type of water mill was used in the processing of wool into cloth.

Modwen was trading in Burton-on-Trent as a clothier in 1582, when her Uncle Richard established a charity for Burton cloth-dealers when his brother (Modwen's father) William died. She received a share of 120 pounds sterling for the next five years from "Caldwall's Charity."

Children of John Wightman and Modwen Caldwall are:



1. Atherton, Ian and Como, David, "The Burning of Edward Wightman: Puritanism, Prelacy and the Politics of Heresy in Early Modern England," English Historical Review, 2005, vol. 70, pp 1215-1250.

2. Legends at Rootsweb, (, "Electronic."

3. Mary Ross Whitman, George Wightman of Quidnessett, RI and Descendants, (1939, Chicago: Edwards Brothers).

Tringham, Nigel J., A History of the County of Staffordshire: Volume 9 Burton-upon-Trent, (2003, Victoria County History).

Early History of the Wightman Family in England



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