Brief History of the Wilder Family



Compiled by:

Mrs. Iris Elizabeth Moon (nee Wilder) of Sulham House,

Pangbourne, Berkshire, England. RG8 8EE

[Included here with her kind permission.I


The historical documents (about 150 items) from which this history has been derived have been deposited for safe keeping for posterity with the County Archivist for the Royal County of Berkshire. Many of them are medieval documents on parchment written in the legal Latin of the time and can be deciphered only by a medieval scholars. With the aid of various additional sources of information which have come to light since, this is an attempt to trace the origins of some of the Wilders from America, many of whom have contacted us here at Sulham over the years. It will be appreciated that some of the accounts differ in detail so it is difficult to ensure complete accuracy when dealing with events taking place so long ago.


We believe that the earliest known Wilder was Nicholas Wilder, or Wylder, a German soldier in the army of the Earl of Richmond, the Lancastrian claimant to the throne of England who landed at Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, and defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The Earl of Richmond assumed the throne as Henry VII. He was the first Tudor King of England, which he ruled for twenty—five years, and throughout his reign the possibility of another Yorkist insurrection was never out of his mind. It is likely that Nicholas remained in his service for several years until the kingdom was safe.

On 15th April 1497, as a token of esteem and a reward for his faithful service, Henry VII gave Nicholas a landed estate and a Grant of Arms. This grant of a coat of arms was a very early creation by a Tudor King and the family has remained armigerous since that time.

This original estate was that of Nunhide (then probably Nunehyde) and it appears that Nicholas added to its acreage by purchasing additional land there from John Kent in 1497. There would have been a timber—framed house on the property and the brick walls of the old court in front of this house are still in place. In the early 17th century it was replaced by a pleasant brick and tiled house which, with various alterations and additions, still stands today and is known as Nunhide Farm House.

The Lordship of the Manor* of Nunhide was held by Goring Priory (just across the River Thames in Oxfordshire) until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. This would probably account for the name: Nun’s Hyde. (A hyde was the Anglo— Saxon name for an area of land.) Thereafter it passed through various hands until it was bought by Thomas Wilder, great—grandson of Nicholas, in conjunction with his sa~ John. in 1632. Thomas thus became the independent owner and the house may well have been rebuilt at this time. The Nunhide property still forms part of the Sulham Estate today, lying to the south of Sulham Village.

The following year, 1633, John Wilder married Amy Knapp of Chilton and through this marriage the family became Founder’s Kin of St. John’s College, Oxford, Sir William White, the Founder, having been her uncle of some generations past. This no doubt accounts for the fact that a number of subsequent Wilders graduated from St. John’s.



*        Lordship of the Manor represents ultimate ownership of property in a system

under which a piece of property may be sold (its use let) for a period such as

three lifetimes, but ownership must eventually revert to the holder of the

Lordship of the Manor.

To return to Nicholas: He and his wife Isabel (or Elizabeth) had seven sons. The eldest was John who married Agnes, and the youngest, also called John,* was married to Alice Keats. Alice’s father, John Keats owned land at Sulham which, when the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086, had been a feudal manor held by Theodoric the Goldsmith an ancient kind of banker who also held the adjoining Manor of Purley Magna and other lands in Berkshire.


John and Alice had a large family: four sons John, Nicholas, William and Thomas, and three daughters Eleanor, Joan and Alice.

1.  John. Like his father and grandfather, he was known as John of Nunhide. to which property he succeeded on his father’s death in 1588. It was his son John (fifth generation), born to to his brother Thomas’ widow Margaret and younger than his step—brothers, who lived at Combe on the borders of Berkshire and Hampshire and from whom are thought to be descended the American Wilders who trace their ancestry to the original settlement in Norfolk, Virginia.

2.  Nicholas. He died without issue when only 22 years old.

3.  William. When his father died in 1588 he left the Sulham property to William, having already built him a new house in Sulham in 1582 (now Sulham Farm House). The property was entailed but William unfortunately had no children and when he died in 1600 it passed to his younger brother Thomas, again entailed for Thomas’ eldest son.

4.  Thomas. This Thomas of Sulham and his wife Margaret had two children, John and Thomas (fifth generation) but he did not live long either, such was the uncertainty of life in those days. His widow, Margaret, then married her brother—in—law, John of Nunhide and it will be seen that by this marriage the property at Sulham and Nunhide was consolidated. It was their son John, referred to above, who held the land at Combe.


The eldest son of Thomas of Sulham was John and it is from him that the main line of English Wilders is descended.

The younger son of Thomas, also called Thomas, married Martha, the heiress to property at Shiplake in Oxfordshire. (There is mention of the family in Shiplake in the reign of Henry VII and also long after, but unfortunately the registers of the time of Charles I in Shiplake have been torn out.) At all events, he was known as Thomas of Shiplake and on his death in 1634 this property passed to his son John. In 1638 his widow Martha, having put her affairs in England in order, emigrated to Massachusetts. She sailed in the “Confidence” and settled in Hingham with her four younger children, Thomas. Edward, Mary and Elizabeth. It is from this family that most of the American Wilders are descended. We were interested to learn recently that two famous American authors are direct descendents of this line: Thornton Wilder from Edward and Laura Ingalls Wilder from Thomas.

In the year 1712 (in the reign of William and Mary) Henry Wilder, great—great— great—grandson of Nicholas, bought the Lordship of the Manor of Sulham. and in 1724 the Advowson, or Patronage of the Living. He had married Elizabeth Saunders in 1705. Her grandmother, Margaret Saunders, was niece to John Buckeridge, Fellow of St. John’s Oxford, Bishop of Rochester and of Ely. He is described as being a High Churchman and tutor to Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. Whether the family love of literature came from him or not, Henry Wilder seems to have been a collector of books and makes special mention of his library in his Will.



*        ~~ seems that the John who married Alice Keats must have been a son of the John who married Agnes, not the youngest son of Nicholas. Note that his son’s grandfather was also known as John of Nunhide. This is also needed to make all the references to generation or relationship to Nicholas in this “Brief History” to come out right. J.E.W.

Henry and Elizabeth had a son John, who in 1735 (reign of George II) married Beautoy, daughter of Col. William Boyle of Shiplake and granddaughter of Sir Samuel Garth who was Physician in Ordinary to George I and Physician General to the Forces in Ireland. Beaufoy came from a very distinguished family and could trace her descent as sixteenth in direct line from Edward III. She was also a considerable heiress and, although she and her husband appear to have lived mainly at her family home at Shiplake after their marriage, John did not neglect to add to his Sulham property. Among other purchases it is recorded that he bought more land at Sulham in 1750. In 1766 he obtained from the College of Heralds a formal Grant of the Arms he pleaded that his family had long borne, having been “a long time Lords of the Manors of Sulham and Nunhide.” (See If rontispiecel for details.) He described himself as being in the Commission of the Peace for Berks and Oxford, Deputy Lieutenant and Captain of Militia for Berkshire. His portrait in uniform and that of his wife Beaufoy. which were said to have been painted by the American artist Singleton Copley, hang in Sulham House today, together with portraits of some of Beauf aye other illustrious relations which came from her home in Shiplake. The neme of Beaufoy has passed through the various generations to the present day: our younger daughter Julia and her son Edward both bear the name.

John and Beaufoy had eight children, most of whom were born at Shiplake; three daughters died young and are buried at Sulham.

In 1768 their eldest son, John, married Joan Thoyts and through that marrmge further property came into his possession. In 1773, a year after his father’s death, he sold Shiplake and in 1777 bought Purlev Hall, a large country house with a home farm and extensive grounds to the north of and adjoining his property at Sulham. Built in 1609 by Francis Hyde of Pangbourne, it was originally known as Hyde Hall. A cousin of Frances, Edward Hyde. became in later years the famous Earl of Clarendon who, by his second marriage, was father to the Duchess of York whose daughters, Mary and Ann, became Queens of England and are said to have visited Purley Hall in their youth.

In 1720 the property was sold to Francis Hawes, who changed the name to

Purley Hall. However, the Hawes family was involved in the financial scandal of the

South Sea Bubble and in 1777 were forced to sell the property to the Rev. Dr.

Henry Wilder for L 9,500. The house remained in Wilder ownership until 1961 and is

still in private hands.

In 1838 the Rev. John Wilder replaced the Norman church at Sulham with a new building in the Italianate style. The church and its churchyard, adjoining the grounds of Sulham House, contain a number of memorials and graves of the Wilder family. The Wilders provided many Rectors of the Parish, and between 1823 and 1944 there was an unbroken line of them something of an ecclesiastical record!

Sulham house was built in 1701 (William and Mary) and passed through various stages until its final major alteration and extension by John Wilder mentioned above, in 1838. It is now the main residence of the Sulham estate. My husband and I count ourselves fortunate to live there, and the whole estate is now in trust for our eldest grandson Henry, so we hope that it will continue safely in family hands for many years to come.




Sulham House

May 1992