HERE ARE THREE PEOPLE YOU MAY NOT HAVE HEARD OF and who rarely make it into the history books.
Frances Matthew (d.1629) was the wife of Tobie Matthew, dean of Durham and, from 1606, archbishop of York. Frances complemented her husband throughout his promotion in the church. Ever 'busy with Scripture', she was much in demand by mothers seeking to place their daughters in her household. But Frances's own family life was less steady. Of her surviving sons, one was a wastrel and one a convert to Roman Catholicism who later became a Jesuit. A disappointed father all but wrote his children from his will, bequeathing his property to Frances. In the year before her death she transferred his collection of 3,000 books to the dean and chapter at York and so established the York Minister Library--evidence, according to her monument, of 'exemplary wisdom [and] ... virtues not only above her sex, but the times'.
Mary Saxby's was a quite different life. Born in London in 1738 she experienced abuse, poverty, prostitution, and latterly religious conversion. That we know anything of Mary is due to her leaving a manuscript autobiography, posthumously published as Memoirs of a Female Vagrant in 1806. The work provides a detailed and frank account of the hardships of the eighteenth century's itinerant working class. A later generation took up Saxby's cause to celebrate her religious redemption and encourage middle-class readers to consider 'these numerous bands of semi-savages dispersed amidst our highly civilised countrymen'.
Lastly, there is John Travers Cornwell (1900-16). On leaving school, John favoured a life at sea but his parents saw him appointed a delivery boy for Brooke Bond & Co in Leyton, Essex. However, with the outbreak of war he joined HMS Chester in May 1916. Within a month his ship was involved at Jutland; …