The John Hooke Tragedy

to Isle of Wight History Centre
The Scientist, The Grocer, The Governor and Grace. Full commentary
Hooke's Diary Extracts from Robert Hooke's diary 1672-1680
Newport Corporation Documents relating to the suicide of John Hooke.
Hooke Family Tree
John Hooke Timeline
Hooke Family Home
Freshwater area in the 17th century
Hooke and Geology
Freshwater Parish
Robert Hooke Timeline
Sir Robert Holmes Timeline
Character Glossary


By Rob Martin. ©2000.

The Isle of Wight History Centre

The Scientist, the Grocer, the Governor and Grace

(A note on sources : The following article has been based on the sources listed at the end of this page. All quotations have been taken from these seven primary sources.)

On the morning of the 27th March 1677/78, John Hooke, brother of the famous scientist, Robert Hooke, was found hanging in his house in Newport. He had committed suicide "by suspending himselfe". On the 28th March 1677/78, he was "interred privately but not in Comon burying place".

If in 17th century Newport, as in the nation as a whole, a suicide was a noteworthy incident in itself, it is due to the rarity of such an event as well as to the terrible economic and spiritual consequences thereof. Two usual methods, mentioned in the Newport Court books, were hanging and drowning oneself in the River Medina (the latter was usually less than fatal and invariably ended in failure and a fine).

But what makes this suicide significant and noteworthy is the fact that John Hooke, an unremarkable grocer living in an unremarkable market town, was the brother of the famous London-based scientist and secretary of The Royal Society, Robert Hooke.

What made an apparent pillar of the Newport community, a seemingly solid member of the Newport social and political establishment, what made such a person decide to risk his soul and estate by committing "murder upon himself" ?

In trying to answer this, various events will require investigation. This will bring into focus the characters that were sucked into these spiralling events as well as their attitudes, expectations and feelings. But, above all, it will centre on the Hooke family, most especially the relationship between two brothers.

John Hooke's Early Life

John Hooke was the eldest of two sons, born to John Hooke and his wife, Cecellie. John Hooke senior had been curate of All Saints Church in Freshwater since about 1626. The right of bestowing this living was in the hands of St. John's College, Cambridge, and was one of the most valuable on the Island. John Aubrey mentions that John Hooke senior "had two or three brothers all Ministers" and that they came from "the Family of Hooke, of Hooke in Hampshire,.., a very ancient family and in that place for three or more hundred yeares". At his burial in Freshwater on 17th October 1648, John Hooke senior is listed as a "clerk".

John Hooke had four children. Anne was the eldest but very little is known about her. Katherine was baptised on 11th May 1628. She was followed by John who was baptised on 9th May 1630. And finally, Robert was baptised on 19th July 1635. The family lived in a property on what today is known as Hooke Hill, close to the parish Church. From the inventory taken on the death of John Hooke senior, it is clear that the house and its contents were relatively modest, as befitted, perhaps, a clergyman. It was a typical house of the time for a comfortable yeoman, although the Hookes possessed less fine furniture and dining ware than many of the yeoman class. John and his wife had the main bedroom above the parlour, with various bits of furniture, including the warming pan. The children were divided so that the sisters, Ann and Katherine, had one room while the brothers, John and Robert, shared another. Whether it was the sisters or the brothers who had to share the one bed in the loft over the buttery is not known. Each room had at least one chest for storing clothes in. The inventory does give an idea of the type of house and domestic environment in which John and Robert were brought up .

A 1793 map of Freshwater village. Hook Hill, named after the Hooke family, leads directly to the parish church, situated at the east end of Hook Hill, overlooking the Yar estuary. The Hookes probably lived in the buildings immediately to the left of the word 'Hook'.

John's brother, Robert, was "very infirm and weakly, and therefore Nurst at Home". However John and Katherine, as was common contemporary practice, were "Nurst Abroad" by a local woman of the area. Robert was very ill in the early part of his life "and for at least seven Years his Parents had very little hopes of his life, being often sick".

That John held precedence over Robert in his father's eyes is evident in the will of John Hooke senior. Such an attitude, that favoured the eldest male, was a prevalent and unsurprising one at that time. Apart from the larger amount of money that John received , compared to Robert, their father also made careful provision for his eldest son : he stipulated when the money should be handed out and he had also provided his son, John, with "stock". He is given eight items of furniture, including a bedstead, a very expensive item in those days. In contrast, Robert is given forty pounds, a chest and all the books. A final note in the will mention that the wainscote and glass windows (expensive items frequently removed by owners) was to be given to either his wife or John or Katherine. Robert is not included.

Possibly John's father intended him to go into the ministry as he did Robert. However Robert's proneness to headaches "which hindered his learning" and his father's infirmity meant that his father was unable to continue instructing him. John, on the other hand, may have attended a local school and may well have been on course for a career in the Church as well. What happened to his career choice is unknown, for John became a grocer in Newport after spending seven years as an apprentice. Not only does Aubrey refer to him as such, but this fact is borne out by tokens issued by John Hooke which show on the obverse side the arms of the Grocers Company. The fact that he became a grocer in Newport would have required him to have fulfilled a seven year apprenticeship in Newport with a Newport grocer. Newport Borough ordinances required that anyone carrying on a trade in Newport had completed a seven year apprenticeship. Given the fact that he married the daughter of William Maynard, a grocer, a Chief Burgess and a member of a well-known Newport family, then it is possible that he was apprenticed to this same William Maynard. Indeed, in a 1653 Rental of Newport of properties in Newport, Maynard is listed as the tenant of a property next to what is now the Vine Inn on the corner of Holyrood Street and the High Street. At a later date, the name "Maynard" has been crossed out and replaced with "Hooke", presumably his ex-apprentice.

A trade token issued by John Hooke.
Note the arms of The Grocer’s Company - a chevron between nine cloves.

When John Hooke senior died, "he left one hundred poundes" to his son, Robert, with the intention of apprenticing Robert to "Mr. Lilly the Paynter, with whom he was a little while upon tryall, who liked him very well". In fact Robert was left £40 by his father while John was left £60 with a further £10 "if my Overseers and his Master see that he plays the good husband with the stock I have given him,…". Being the elder brother, more emphasis was placed on John by his father. He was left the "bedstead feather bed" and a number of other items. Robert had to be content with the "best joined chest and all my books".

John Hooke, the Newport Burgess.

By 1651, John had completed his apprenticeship. He was to wed Elizabeth Maynard of Newport and, as was the custom, the banns were indeed read in Newport parish church on 21 and 28 November and 5 December 1657. Elizabeth was the daughter of a prominent burgess of some note, Mr. William Maynard, as already mentioned. This can be seen to represent John's attempt to enter into the social sphere of the Newport ruling families and his acceptance by the Newport 'Influentia' dates from his marriage into the Maynard family. On 2nd August 1658, they did finally marry but in Freshwater parish church and the clerk has recorded Elizabeth's surname as 'Mainer'. The word 'Mainer' is in fact a phonetic spelling of the Islander pronounciation of Maynard.

Elizabeth's father, William Maynard, was a grocer and had been elected a Chief Burgess in 1637. His father, Anthony Maynard, was an apothecary, who had been mayor in 1626 and 1635. In 1644, an "Ordnance of Parliament establishing a Committee for the Isle of Wight" established a committee to govern the Island. It comprised sixteen Island and Hampshire people of varying reknown and Colonel Thomas Carne. William Maynard was one of the named members. Sir John Oglander remarked disparagingly of this administration:

"But we had a thing here called a Committee, which over-ruled Deputy-Lieutenants and alsoJustices of the Peace, and of this we had brave men : Ringwood of Newport, the pedlar : Maynard, the apothecary : Matthews, the baker : Wavell and Legge, farmers, and poor Baxter of Hurst Castle. These ruled the whole Island and did whatsoever they thought good in their own eyes."

The superior and condescending tone of Oglander is unmistakeable. Note the use of words denoting tradesmen or manual work and the almost dismissive suggestion of the humbleness of their jobs. This is doubly significant in an age where work (or lack of), office and status were all very closely linked. The word 'brave' is being used in its seventeenth century sense to mean 'bold' or 'boastful' and is connected with the word 'bravado'. In the seventeenth century, this had the sense of 'boastful or threatening behaviour' and, as a noun, it denoted a 'swaggering fellow'. If John was apprenticed to this William, then this put him in a very good position for advancement within Newport society.

A year later in 1659, John was "elected & sworne a Burgesse & chief Burgesse of this Borough" all in the same day at a meeting of the Newport Town Council. The following year, Grace, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Hooke, was born and was baptised on 2nd May 1660 at Newport parish church. A year later, in 1661, John's eldest sister died and was buried in Newport.

John seems to have been dwelling in a large substantial property in the High Street. He was paying for six hearths in the Hearth Tax Assessments of both 1664 and 1674. In 1665, John was substantial and influential enough to be elected and sworn in as "an Alderman of the Corporacon", a select group within the Town Council itself. Did his brother Robert's rising fame in London society have any influence on John's acceptance by the Newport 'influentia'? After all, Robert had just published his well-acclaimed book 'Micrographia'? How much was John's rise due to his own successful business skill and how much was due to his brother's reputation?

In 1666, John bought "two messuages and two gardens" off William Juning, another well-known and prominent Newport burgess. John was made warden of the Comon Box in 1667. This position meant that he was Treasurer for Newport Corporation. When he delivered up his accounts for that year, it showed that he was owed by the Corporation £8 - 5s. In the 17th century, a municipal office necessitated the mingling of private, personal money and municipal finances in a way unknown today. The two areas of personal and public finance were not kept separate but were used one to support or reimburse the other. At the end of one's term in office, one had to present one's accounts to the Town Council for their inspection. Such were the Town's finances, that often a town officer was required to pay out for an expense using his own personal money until the town finances were able to pay him back. Some officers finished their term owing money to the town's Comon Box (the physical manifestation of the Newport's finance account), which they were obliged to pay out from their own personal wealth. A town office was rather like a franchise or a holiday boat that one took out for one year. You could run it how you wished and make use of its resources but at the end of the year, you had to return it in a similar or better condition to how you found it. Consequently the holding of a municipal position could be a somewhat precarious proposition, equally debilitating as profitable or beneficial. For some it was a liability. This is why a number of burgesses refused certain offices and were promptly fined for doing so (sometimes the lesser of two evils). For example, with the mayorship,there came certain priviledges, profits and economic advantages but there were also a number of obligations such as providing a mayor's feast etc. that required the expense of quite substantial sums of money. It was because of the unpredictable economic nature of mayorship, that the Corporation had tried an early salary experiment in 1621. Because, at the end of their yearly term, mayors were often owed money by the Corporation, it was decided to pay each mayor a £10 yearly allowance. This was scrapped in 1633. The problem of poor financial remuneration for mayors remained, however, and the allowance was reintroduced in 1687. If John Hook's suicide concerned lack of money and chronic debts, then possibly the memory of his suicide may have helped to induce this. It is against this background that John reached the pinnacle of his career when he became mayor of Newport on 16th October 1668. From here, it was all downhill.

Until his holding of this office, John Hooke had run a perfectly reasonable grocery business. Indeed the absence of any mention of commercial offences in the Borough books on his part point to a business with few problems. However from 1670, John is mentioned regularly from 1670 to 1675 as using light weights and false measures. And it is during the 1670's that he starts to borrow worryingly increasing amounts of money from his brother, Robert in London. Robert, somewhat careful with money, kept a sharp account of his brother's debts. And at some point, around 1670, John sent his daughter, Grace, to live with his brother, Robert, her uncle, in London. Whether this had anything to do with his increasingly penurious state, or his desire for his daughter to find a more superior suitor than she would find in Newport, is unknown. That John had social pretensions is suggested by the gifts that Robert was sending him in the early 1670's - a "chymicall book", a "perspective glasse" and a silver, grained tobacco box.

However, at first, John sent up amounts of money to cover Grace's board and lodging. This seems to have dried up at some point because, by November 1674, Robert lists John as one of his debtors, owing him £225. Possibly a portion of this debt may have been expenses laid out by Robert on Grace for maintenance, once his brother had failed to continue payments. As recompense, John did send up a regular supply of groceries such as geese, hares, fowls, grapes and honey.

Following his holding of the office of Warden of the Common Box and the resultant debt of £8 - 5s. that the town owed him, John was elected mayor for the first time. However, he ended his term, again, with the town owing him money.

21 Oct. 1669
At this assembly Mr. John Hook delivedup his Accompt of his publique receipts & disbursmts in the time of his Majoralty and upon the same rest due to the said Mr. Hook ili xiiiis vd.
John served another term as mayor from September 1676 until 1677, and possibly this, in conjunction with other circumstances, led to his suicide five months later. Certainly, during this period he was writing to his brother, Robert, asking to borrow money. In March 1677, John was requesting £50, while in June of the same year, he was hoping for £20 or £40.

Grace Hooke.

It is now at this point that Grace Hooke enters as a major player in events. Indeed John Hooke's suicide will eventually be over-ridden by his daughter's relationship with two eminent men of their day.

Grace Hooke was the daughter of John Hooke. At about the age of ten, she was sent up to London to live with her uncle, Robert. She was presumably an attractive girl, judging from the quality and quantity of the male attentions that she received. Much to Hooke's concerned jealousy, his diary catalogues a number of male liaisons of varying intimacy during her stay with him. Aubrey mentions that Robert's "elder brother left one faire daughter which is his Heire", the word suggesting that she was a good-looking girl. Indeed, judging from the quality of the attentions she was later to attract ( a governor of the Isle of Wight and the son of a wealthy London merchant who had been both a Sheriff and a Lord Mayor), she was obviously attractive or charming or both, for she did not represent a strong social or economic prospect.

That she was desirable is illustrated by the attention she attracted from Sir Thomas Bloodworth. Sir Thomas Bloodworth was a wealthy London merchant who belonged to the Vintner's Company. He had been Lord Mayor of London at the time of the Great Fire in 1666 as well as Sheriff. At some point in the early 1670's, John Hooke, via Robert, had engaged with him for the betrothal of Grace with Bloodworth's son. Whether they ever married is uncertain, but there is the possibility because there is a mention of "Grace's divorce" in Robert's diary. Maybe this was a pre-nuptial legal contract that bound the two to marry at a later date and therefore required a legal "divorce" to cancel.

On 13 September 1672, Bloodworth visited Robert to inform him that "he resolvd to continue to have Grace and to send me his dymands next day". Robert acted as an intermediary between his brother and Bloodworth in these proceedings. He kept his brother on the Isle of Wight informed of developments and passed on his brother's communications to Bloodworth.

A 17th century marriage contract was like a business deal, often involving some tough negotiating. Here the betrothed couple can be seen on the right, while the two sets of parents (on the left) are sorting out the terms of the marriage contract.

However, by July and August 1673, Bloodworth had decicded to break off the contract and required a legal "release" from it. This therefore meant "Cleering at Law". The affair dragged on until, finally in September 1675, Sir Thomas Bloodworth and Robert Hooke decided to gain release before a judge. Both parties needed a signed and sealed release which was registered with the clerks of a judge, Mr. Newcourt. That it was the Bloodworths and not the Hookes that initiated the break is suggested by the fact that Sir Thomas Bloodworth paid the fee of 6s. 8d. for this "Declaration and Discharge". Why the Bloodworths decided so suddenly to abandon the marriage agreement is not known. And so ended an affair that embroiled Robert in unnecessary and stressful anxiety.

By the time Robert started his diary in 1672, Grace was already living with him. As already mentioned, her father sent up money for her board and pocket money but Hooke's diary shows only occasional payments. Robert sent her to a school run by a Mrs. Windsor and this cost him £4. 3s. per quarter. Robert was also spending increasing amounts on clothes for Grace, as well as 'a Necklace of Pargeter', 'a pair of Red pendants 6sh.', a looking glass, books, a muff, a ring, speckled silk stockings and a 'ruby pendant'. Robert's attitude towards Grace was at the same time paternalistic and that of a jealous boyfriend, and yet deep down, it is obvious that he cared for her well-being a great deal.

Despite living in London, Grace regularly made visits to the Island to see her family in Newport and , while in London, she kept in contact with them by letter. However, it seems that John and Robert never actually deliberately visited each other but they did keep in regular contact through letters and gifts, which were transported back and forth by the carrier from the Island, a man named Hewet. Their sister, Katherine did visit Robert in London on 7th July 1675 and stayed for 17 days, possibly to collect Grace, for Grace returned with her to the Island on 24th July 1675. Was there any other purpose to this visit, seeing as she remained so long?

However, Robert did return to visit the Island at least once on the occasion of the death of his mother in August 1665. In "London's Leonardo", a collection of four articles on Robert Hooke, Lisa Jardine quotes in the notes a letter from Robert Hooke to Robert Boyle, itself taken from a book giving the correspondence of Boyle. In a letter of 26th September 1665, Hooke wrote "I am going shortly for a little while into the Isle of Wight, and so perhaps may not till my return be able to make those trials;..." The plague that was raging at that time in both Portsmouth and Southampton had prevented him from going earlier. It is most likely that it was during this stay that Hooke took the opportunity to study the cliffs about Freshwater for fossils, an engraving of which was later to appear in Hooke's "Posthumous Works" published by Richard Waller. It was also at this time that he was formulating his advanced theories on fossils and geology, theories which appeared in Micrographia and subsequently in a series of lectures that he was to give to The Royal Society and which were to be not only overlooked in his day but plagiarised by others without due credit to himself.

His brother was not the only Island person with whom Robert kept in contact. In London, on several occasions, he met up with Sir John Oglander, although he did not refer to the subject of their conversations. However, it may have been about Tom Giles, "a pretty boy", whose family lived in Brading in the Isle of Wight and who was the son of Robert's cousin, for in May 1676, Robert spoke to "Sir J. Oglander for Th. Giles". In fact, Tom Giles, like Grace Hooke, went to live in the Hooke household under the tutelage of Robert, temporarily in July 1675 and then permanently from June 1676. He remained living with Robert and Grace until his poignant death from small pox in September 1677.

The other Island gentleman with whom Robert had contact was Sir R. Worsley but again the nature of their communication is not known. On 16th October 1675, Robert dined with the "Deputy Governor of the Isle of Wight", who at that time was Sir Edward Worsley, having been recently appointed to this position by Sir Robert Holmes on 3 July of that year. And so Robert obviously continued contact with Island society other than his immediate family.

Robert Hooke's servants.

Robert's relationships with his servants needs further investigation as it has a bearing on his relationship with Grace. The servant with whom he developed a deep and lasting relationship was Nell Young. He became quite attached to her, so much so that he kept in close contact with her even once she had left his employ and went to live near the Fleet Ditch with her recent husband. She continued to do small jobs for Robert, mainly clothes mending or making clothes, doing laundry work etc. Indeed, out of all the people Robert mentions in his diary, her name is one of the most frequent, and certainly is the most mentioned female.

But Nell's use did not end there. She seems to have acted as a conduit through which much Island news reached Robert. Indeed he learnt of the two most important pieces of Island news (Holmes courting Grace and his brother's suicide) while he was at Nell's house. The Newport Convocation book names a "Mary Young" as John Hooke's family servant. If Mary and Nell were sisters, then it would explain how Robert came to receive Island news through Nell Young. It would also suggest that communication between them was more efficient than between the two Hooke brothers.

Robert Hooke also had a tendency to sleep with his servants. In his diary, he uses a symbol to signify an orgasm or sex . And it is always used in conjunction with a female servant's name. He had sex with several of his servants, but mainly Nell Young. What is significant is that his intimate sexual liaisons seem to have been solely limited to servants who were close to him rather than with women of the same or higher social status than himself. Possibly this points to a lack of self esteem, verging on an inferiority complex, in his personal relationships. Certainly it shows an insecurity with females of a similar status to himself. The only two females that he really got close to, and felt comfortable with, were his niece/housekeeper, Grace, and his one-time servant, Nell Young.

In 1676, we find Robert becoming intimate with his own niece, Grace. On 4th June, he "slept with Grace". During the rest of the year and 1677, we find Robert sleeping with her on a number of occasions. These latter were obviously significant enough for Robert to record them in his diary. There is no doubt that he grew increasingly attached to his niece during her time with him. Perhaps during the last few months of 1676, he realised this for, on 13th December 1676, he wrote " Grace out. I resolvd to rid my self of her". She was beginning to see other men and Robert was never too happy about her liaisons with other males. His feelings towards her were somewhat confused. Although he was very much her guardian and uncle, he was also her lover and regarded her liaisons with other males with suppressed jealousy on occasions. As her guardian, he lent her his books and taught her algebra and French. He bought her clothes and provided for her education. As her lover, he bought her gifts of jewellery.

In January 1677, he wrote to his brother "about removing Grace". Perhaps, he felt he was falling for her and could not trust his self-control or emotions. His brother, John, sent him a letter and a goose and Grace remained in London. From 11th February 1677, the name of Grace is often found in conjunction with the symbol. On 5th March 1677, Robert wrote "Grace perfecte intime omne.¥."

Grace was now a young lady and was attending balls. She was also meeting other men. Robert's jealousy had been aroused as early as June 1675, when Nell Young, by now his ex-servant, told him "of Grace being with Trotter related by Sir W. Mews his man. She denyd". Not only does this reveal something of the information chain amongst servants, but the last two words also suggest that Robert was moved enough to confront Grace with this information. In fact, Nell takes on the role very much of an informer. She was able to keep an eye on Grace for Robert since she was very much like a sister to Grace and kept close contact with the Hooke household, even after she had been discharged. In later years, we find Grace telling him "of Edwards" and Robert having to "chid Grace about a fellow" and later still,on 2nd November 1679, he "chid Grace about Edwards". On 30th June 1677, Robert notes "Found cellar door open and Pettis with Grace". But for Robert, a more worrying relationship was to develop during the autumn of 1677.

The Chronology of Hooke's Servants.
? - 29 Sept. 1673Nell Young
29 Aug. 1673 - 6 Nov. 1673Bridget Taylor
16 Oct. 1673 - 28 March 1674Doll Lord
3 April 1674 - 20 Sept. 1674Bette Orchard
30 Sept. 1674 ->>>Mary (Robinson?)

Sir Robert Holmes, Governor of the Isle of Wight, and Grace.

On 10th August 1677, Grace had returned to the Isle of Wight. During this visit she became involved with the Governor of the Isle of Wight, Sir Robert Holmes. On 31st October, Robert wrote "heard of Sir R. Holmes courting Grace." She was seventeen years old. Three days later, Robert "wrote to Brother J. Hooke about Grace and Sir R. Holmes". Early in 1678, Robert learnt that Grace was ill with the measles.

And then on 27th February 1678, John Hooke, Grace's father, and Mayor of Newport, died, having committed suicide. It was four days later that Robert heard the news. Immediately a number of significant and yet rather puzzling consequences occur.

When Robert Hooke speaks to the King about his brother's estate, he learns that Sir Robert Holmes has already asked it for John's wife and Grace. This had the effect of making him ill. Then begins two months of unusually close contact with Holmes. Unusual, given the fact that Robert had entertained no such relations with Holmes either before or after this incident.

On 7th March, Robert tries to talk with Holmes, but he's not in. The next day, he is able to speak with him. On 9th March, we find Robert visiting Dr. Whistler "about Sir R. Holmes". On 10th March, Robert again speaks to Holmes. On 10th April, Robert speaks to Newland about Newport Corporation and Sir Robert Holmes. The Newlands were an Island family of merchants, based in Newport and the Cowes. During the Civil War, a branch of the East Cowes Newlands had moved to London, since the Island had become too dangerous for them. Newport Corporation had an interest in John Hooke's estate, for by their town charter, they felt they had a right to it.

On 3rd May, Robert received a letter from Holmes who had presumably returned to the Island for a short while, for on 13th May, Robert again tries to speak with him. Why this sudden bout of temporarily close relations with Holmes? And why Holmes's keen interest in the affairs of the Hooke family on the death of John Hooke?

Initial research reveals the probability of Grace being pregnant with Holmes's child. They were courting by October 1677. By April 1678, Robert is in correspondence with a Newport doctor, Dr. Harrison, from whom he receives a letter on 2nd May and again on 11th May. [On 10 Aug. 1669, "Edward Harrison Doctor of Physick" was made a free Burgess of the Borough of Newport (NBC/45/2f.190v)] Hooke then speaks with him "about Grace". On 18th May, he calls on Harrison who has now come to London. On 7th June, Grace returns to London. There is no mention of Dr. Harrison after this. In the Newport Corporation Books (NBC/45/16b), in the court held on 8th May 1678, the Council order that Dr. Edward Harrison be paid for the "diet and bord" of Mrs. Hooke, Grace and Jane Young, possibly a servant. If Grace gave birth on the Island, then presumably the baby was placed with a nurse.

There has been great speculation about the mother of Holmes's daughter, Mary, who was born in 1678. Some have suggested that he had an affair with a Theodosia Kingdon, wife of a financier called Lemuel Kingdon, in London. She was twenty one in 1680 when she was reported by a London gossip writer as having entered "into a great intrigue" with Holmes. However, Richard Ollard, biographer of Holmes, rejects this, pointing out that in 1678, "Theodosia was in any case occupied in bearing his [Lemuel] own children".

Although based on circumstantial evidence, we are left with the incontrovertible conclusion that in 1677-78, Holmes was courting Grace Hooke on the Island and that most probably it was Grace, who was the mother of Mary, the illegitimate daughter of Sir Robert Holmes.

Was Holmes interested in marrying Grace? Holmes attitude to marriage with social inferiors needs investigation and this attitude is illustrated in his reaction to his brother's marriage in 1668. His brother, John, had secretly married a Margaret Lowther and the incident is mentioned by Pepys in his diary. Pepys felt sorry for her because John Holmes was "an idle rascal, and proud, and with little, I doubt; and she a mighty pretty, well-disposed lady and a good fortune". He continues: "Her friends take on mightily; but the sport is, Sir Robert Holmes do seem to be mad with his brother, and will disinherit him, saying that he hath ruined himself, marrying below himself, and to his disadvantage".

It is significant that Robert was angry with his brother because he felt John was "marrying below himself, and to his disadvantage". It is also intersting to note that Margaret was "mighty pretty", a quality that Grace shared with her. Given his views and attitude to marrying "below" one's status, it is expected that Robert would not marry Grace.

Indeed Robert's obsessive concern for social propriety in marriage is manifest in his will, where he devoted about one sixth of the text in stipulations that Mary, his daughter, marry one of his two nephews in order for her to inherit his estates.

By 1680, Holmes's relationship with Grace had finished and he had moved onto wealthier pastures, for his attentions had turned towards Theodosia Kingdon. Grace, for her part, was seeing other men, under the ever watchful eye of her uncle, Robert.

John Hooke's Suicide.

John Hooke's suicide presents more of a problem. Why did he commit suicide? There are a number of possible answers.

1. Was it because of the large debts that he owed his brother?

By November 1674, John owed Robert £225. By December 1676, this had risen to £250. In 1677, Robert lent him a further £50, followed several months later by £20.

2. Was the financial burden of the office of mayor just too much for a respectable but junior member of the Newport oligarchy to bear? Was it the shame of being a prominent Newport burgess with money problems that seemed to be common knowledge in the town?

This lack of money was obviously noted by the inhabitants of Newport. In March 1676/77, Mark Thearle, a blacksmith of Carisbrooke, was committed to prison for saying that "the Mayor of Newport (Mr. John Hooke) was a rogue and that all the Corporation were a parcell of beggarly fellows and that the Sergeants did on the Satterdaies go about to buy carretts for the Mayor dinner the Sundaies". The comment about carrots highlights the parsimoniousness of John Hooke. However the question remains of why he chose to become mayor for a second term if he was aware how personally damaging it could be to someone in his financial position. Possibly John did not have the stamina nor wealth to cope with the demands and pressure of social-climbing. He was after all from a 'new-comer' family and had no previous connections with Newport society. Being a keen, rising burgess, he was eager to be assimilated into the town oligarchy of ruling families and accepted the mayoralty twice. However he miscalculated the expense and expectations that went with the office. In 1675, John even hoped to develop minor gentry status by buying up an estate. He had his eye on Alvington Farm, slightly to the west of Carisbrooke, but was unfortunately dependent on his brother putting up the £4,000 required. Robert got cold feet and the deal was shelved. This attempt too had failed.

3. Was it the discovery that his daughter was pregnant with the illegitimate child of Sir Robert Holmes?

Margaret Espinasse suggests "the melancholy which also oppressed his brother Robert grew upon him with his financial troubles and at last overwhelmed him" and certainly this melancholic streak in the character of the males of the Hooke family would mean that John was not prepared mentally to cope with his own increasing personal problems, let alone any new pressures or shocks that arose.

"To Be or Not To Be" - The Case of Suicide Opened.

Attitudes to suicide in seventeenth century England and before were markedly shaped by the Christian Church's teaching. Before the seventeenth century, the words 'self homicide' or 'self murder' were commonly used, expressing the medieval idea that one was murdering oneself and therefore committing a crime in the eyes of god, since life was a gift from God and only he could decide when it should be ended. Indeed the latin term was 'felo de se'.

Suicide, as a 'crime', dates from the fourth century when St. Augustine denounced it as sinful and inspired by the Devil, since suicide destroyed God's creation. At the Council of Braga, in 563 A.D. it was decided that all suicides were to be punished, unless proven insane, by committing indignities on the corpse itself and by forfeiture of the deceased's property, usually to the Lord or the Crown.

The indignities varied from place to place but a common one was the burying of the corpse at crossroads with a stake driven through the heart. The Church often denied the suicide burial in consecrated ground or confined the burial of the corpse to the north part of the churchyard, traditionally the Devil's domain, where other suicides, still-borns, unbaptised babies and bastards were lain. Suicides were also buried north-south instead of east-west as a mark of public opprobrium.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, a different , more inquiring attitude to suicide was developing . Indeed several apologists emerged such as Robert Burton, John Donne and William Denney. Suicide had become such a noticeable issue that Shakespeare had fourteen of the characters in his plays commit suicide.

Although a more tolerant attitude to suicide emerged, especially amongst the intelligentsia, the Church remainedfirm in its opposition and condemnation of suicide. The French believed the English so prone to suicide that it was named 'Anglomane' (English madness) and felt to be caused by the weather.

By the nineteenth century, the Church's attitude had begun to soften and in 1823 Parliament did away with crossroad burials and permitted interrment in graveyards. Forfeiture of a suicide's property was only finally abolished half a century later.

In his book about suicide, Robert Wilkins suggests there are six main varieties of suicide : Honour; Imitative; Eccentric/Exhibitionist; Revenge ('You'll be sorry'); Romantic; and Suicide Pacts/Mass Suicide. John Hooke's suicide is almost certainly of the 'honour' type, committed so as to avoid some impending dishonour or an already existing one.


Grace Hooke: Grace continued to live with Robert as his housekeeper until her death in 1687. He was especially fond of her and she became a live-in companion to him. He taught her book-binding and we find her binding several of his books for him. They would go for walks together across the fields to the north of Moorfields or travel together by boat on the Thames. The depths of Robert's attachment to Grace can be seen in his great concern for Grace's health when she contracted small pox in 1679. When she finally died in 1689, she may have been buried in the local church, St. Helen's, in Bishopsgate, as Robert was when he died in 1703. However, she may have ended up at All Hallows. In 1677, Tom Gyles, Robert's nephew, who had lived with them as a house-boy, died and was buried in this latter church. Research into the parish registers and records of these two parishes may reveal more information about Grace and this story.
Sir Robert Holmes: Holmes continued as Governor of the Isle of Wight until his death in 1692, dividing his time between the Island and London, but spending proportionately increasing amounts of time on the Island, preparing its defences for perceived imminent invasions from both the French and the Dutch. He took on a greater role in politics as an M.P. and in obtaining seats for his brother and friends. In later years, his declining health, especially the gout in his legs, prevented him from taking an active part in naval activities, although he was appointed to command a squadron to root out buccaneers in the West Indies - an appointment he unsurprisingly never took up. Was this a case of 'set a pirate to catch a pirate'? He finally died in 1692, leaving much of his estate to his nephew, Henry Holmes, on the condition that he married Mary, Robert's illegitimate daughter.
Mary Holmes: In accordance with her father's wishes, expressed in his will, she married her cousin, Henry Holmes. She bore him eight sons, four of which died in infancy, and eight daughters, only one of whom died as young child. She lived the rest of her life mainly based on the Island, where she was finally buried.
Robert Hooke: Robert does not seem to have recovered any of the debt that his brother owed him. Certainly the Newport Corporation books make no mention of repaying Robert any sums of money. Indeed, its members seemed too intent on getting their pound of flesh to pay any heed to Robert's claims.

He continued as a central figure in the burgeoning scientific world and in the Royal Society. Strong and bitter disagreements with Sir Isaac Newton permanently soured their relationship, so much so that Newton and his admirers have been accused of the intellectual cleansing of Hooke's name from the annals of scientific history. Concerning Grace, there is no doubt that he was deeply fond of her, despite the anguish that she could cause him on occasions. When she died, it affected him strongly and he was never the same again. Waller, Hooke's friend and biographer records the loss he felt: "In the beginning of the Year 1687, his Brother's Daughter, Mrs. Grace Hooke dy'd, who had liv'd with him several Years, the concern for whose Death he hardly ever wore off, being observd from that time to grow less active, more Melancholly and Cynical". It is interesting to note that Waller refers to Grace as Mrs. This may be a reference to a proposed or actual marriage with the son of Sir Thomas Bloodworth, a prominent London merchant and Lord Mayor of London. In the early 70's, Robert had been involved in much negotiation with Sir Thomas Bloodworth on Grace's behalf in untangling and annulling some sort of marriage agreement. Ther are several references to "discharge" and indeed, on 24th March 1674/75, "Grace's divorce" is mentioned.

Elizabeth Hooke: After the suicide of her husband, she received a pension of £10 a year from Newport Corporation for the rest of her life and continued to live in Newport. She did visit and stay with Robert Hooke on one occasion, when Grace was taken very ill with small pox in 1679. She died in 1684 and was buried on 9 June in Newport.

Sources of Information

Information about Robert Hooke's life has been established principally from four sources:

  1. The Life of Dr. Robert Hooke, by Richard Waller, 1705,(as an introduction to "The Posthumous Works of Robert Hooke, M.D., S.R.S.", and ironically dedicated to Sir Isaac Newton).
  2. Brief Lives, by John Aubrey. 1681.
  3. The Diary of Robert Hooke, 1672-1680, edited by Henry Robinson and Walter Adams (Taylor & Francis, 1935).
  4. The will of the Rev. John Hooke (1648B09/1), Hampshire Record Office.

Information about John Hooke and Grace Hooke is not only derived from the above sources but also the following:

  1. Newport Convocation Book (NBC/45/16b). This book contains main points that were discussed at meetings of the town Council.
  2. Newport Court Leet Book. This book contains the local ordinances of Newport as well as a record of infringements of these laws and judgements of the court (usually fines).
  3. Newport Parish Registers

Web sites on Robert Hooke: